ACOSS Warns of ‘Radical’ Measures in Forrest Review
1 August 2014 at 6:36 pm
Community services peak body, the Australian Council of Social Service, has welcomed the emphasis on early learning and demand-led employment in Andrew Forrest’s Review of Indigenous Training and Employment Programmes, but cautioned against some of its radical measures.
Forrest’s recently released review made 27 recommendations to improve indigenous employment outcomes across the country.
Among the 27 recommendations is the implementation of a Healthy Welfare Card scheme in conjunction with major financial institutions and retailers to support welfare recipients manage their income and expenses.
Others include: young people below 19 years of age must be working or in school or other educational institutions, training for a guaranteed job, and the welfare system be simplified by reducing the number of different working age payments available to a single unemployment benefit (with only a very limited number of supplements available).
ACOSS Chief Executive Officer Dr Cassandra Goldie said ACOSS welcomed the review’s focus on early childhood investment, extra support to engage with parents and broader community to deliver responsive services, and its focus on demand-led employment.
“These are sound policies that will make a real difference. However, the potential benefit of these policies risks being undermined by damaging proposals such as the so-called Healthy Welfare card,” ACOSS Chief Executive Officer Dr Cassandra Goldie said.
“This card would apply to 100 per cent of income to all payment recipients (except veterans and age pension).
“It would remove individual autonomy and decision-making and imposing unnecessary bureaucratic controls on the lives of people reliant on income support.
“This proposal would take our nation back to 1930s when unemployed people did not get cash benefits and had to work on the roads or beg for charity to survive.”
The Review also stated that the Family Tax Benefit (FTB) was not conditional on good school attendance, but it should be.
“Governments must make it clear to families applying for the FTB that the benefit is paid to enable them to raise their children responsibly and make sure they are at school each day,” the review said.
“A simple acknowledgement on the application form and permission to check education records would make this clear.”
However, Dr Goldie said: “Punishing families by cutting Family Tax Benefit payments if children don’t meet school attendance targets would inflict further pain on families struggling to cope and does nothing to address the complex issues these families may be facing.”
The review also recommended that Youth Allowance recipients should be on the endorsement of the school principal, and be available only through the Healthy Welfare Card, to “help remove the incentive for young people to leave school to get an independent cash income on welfare”.
“We also strongly oppose proposals to make it harder for young people to access vital income support by requiring that Youth Allowance recipients be endorsed for eligibility by a school principal. Eligibility should be based on need, not principal discretion,” Dr Goldie said.
Another recommendation, ACOSS said it disagreed with was: “That all discretion of Centrelink and job service providers to waive job seekers’ obligations and grant exemptions and transfers to non-activity tested payments such as the Disability Support Pension to excuse working age, capable welfare recipients from efforts to get meaningful employment be removed.”
“This would be extremely detrimental for many people, especially those experiencing complex issues like family violence or homelessness,” Dr Goldie said.
“We are deeply concerned by the hardline and counterproductive approach to people who are out of work, which demonstrates the need to move beyond welfare stereotypes and towards social security and employment policies based on consultation, partnerships and evidence.
“Extending a costly and intrusive system of income control and expanding the failed Work for the Dole program would risk undoing all the good work that could be achieved by the adoption of the positive measures in this review.
“We urge the government to review the evidence and engage directly with communities in determining employment and education pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and all those in our community facing barriers to participation.”
Charity The Benevolent Society has expressed its support for ACOSS’s call to the Government to review the evidence and engage directly with communities.
Greg Antcliff, Director of Professional Practice at charity The Benevolent Society, said although it fully endorsed the recommendation, ‘That all governments prioritise investment in early childhood, from conception to three years of age’, it would not support the setting up of a ‘Healthy welfare card’.
“The Benevolent Society urges all governments to support the recommendation to implement integrated childhood services, starting with the most vulnerable communities as determined by the Australian Early Development Index/Census,” he said.
“We are also concerned by recommendations that reflect a very hard line towards young job seekers and punitive approaches to families in relation to school attendance.