Sector Crisis Meeting On Budget
28 April 2011 at 1:47 pm
Leading community service and consumer groups – including Australia's major charities, disability organisations, representatives of single parents, and people who are long term unemployed – are meeting in Canberra today amid growing concerns over budget speculation about ‘welfare reform' proposals.
The crisis meeting was called to urge the Government to take a positive, and effective approach to helping more people find paid work, amid speculation of harsh and punitive changes to income support payments in the upcoming Budget.
Dr Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of the peak welfare organisation ACOSS says the sector, has been increasingly alarmed about the tone of the current debate and speculation about so called ‘welfare reform' measures in the Budget.
She says the organisations are concerned that the participation agenda to help more people into paid work risks being reduced to a contest over who can be 'tougher' on some of the most vulnerable members of the community, rather than about what is likely to work.
Dr Goldie says they are disappointed that policy initiatives may be developed in the confidential context of the budget process, rather than through open and inclusive processes, to ensure that policies are going to be effective.
She says with labour shortages looming, they agree with the Prime Minister that they have a rare opportunity to help more people into secure paid employment, and off income support.
However, she says it will be a mistake if the Government assumes that this will be achieved by imposing unrealistic ‘activity requirements' or harsher penalties for people on social security.
She says the two million people of working age on social security payments are rightly worried about what the budget will bring and tired of the stereotyping and blaming.
She says groups working directly with people not in paid work have been saying that people need more support, not more threats. People looking for paid work need adequate investment in case management, skills and training, a paid work experience program, and incentives for employers to take people on. We also need to address the ongoing discrimination and reluctance of some employers to give people a fair go.
Importantly, ACOSS says income support levels for people unemployed must be increased to above the poverty line. At just $34 per day, the Newstart Allowance has been reducing in real value over the last 15 years. Financial crisis and homelessness are not the foundations for getting back to paid work. A more adequate income support payment would also encourage more people on the higher DSP to take the risk of looking for paid work, as recommended by the Henry Review Panel, and the OECD. A minimum increase of $50 per week is urgently needed.
Dr Goldie says formulating the Budget is never easy, and the decisions will directly impact on people's lives.
The organisations are urging the Government to approach this task with determination and courage – determination to ensure that those people in the community who are the most vulnerable are protected and supported – and courage to find the savings where there is real waste – such as tax breaks for those on some of the highest incomes in the country.
Those attending the meeting include:
Dr Cassandra Goldie – CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
Dr John Falzon – CEO, St Vincent de Paul National Council
David Thompson – CEO, Jobs Australia
Maree O'Halloran – President, National Welfare Rights Networks
Michael Bleasedale – Co-Executive Director, People With Disability Australia
Sam Page – CEO, Family Relationship Services Australia
Leah Hobson representing Lesley Hall – CEO, Australian Federation of Disability Services
Susan Helyar representing Lin Hatfield Dodds – National Director, UnitingCare Australia
Therese Edwards – CEO, National Council for Single Mothers and Their Children
Kasy Chambers – Executive Director, Anglicare Australia
Paul O'Callaghan – CEO, Catholic Social Services
Rebecca Vassarotti – Executive Director, YWCA Canberra