Alliance Calls on Govt to Stop Criminalisation of the Unemployed
8 September 2016 at 11:15 am
Poor Australians are being criminalised by the social security system, according to an alliance of organisations that are demanding the government address the country’s growing employment crisis.
The Australian Council of Social Services, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, the Anti-Poverty Network (South Australia), the Centre of Full Employment and Equity, the Fair Go for Pensioners Coalition and Guardian columnist Van Badham have joined forces to co-sign an open letter to the government to put a stop to the “criminalisation of the unemployed”.
The signatories want action from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to implement economic and social policies that “do not punish Australian people” who are unemployed or are social welfare recipients.
“With 18 job seekers competing for every job vacancy in Australia, millions of Australians are being condemned to lives below the poverty line due to no fault of their own,” the statement said.
“Despite this jobs crisis, the Turnbull government continues to reinforce stigma surrounding the unemployed and social security recipients by adopting a punitive approach, which has led to the criminalisation of poor Australians.
“It is imperative that all parties in the federal parliament take responsibility for Australia’s worsening employment crisis and work together to implement new policies to support Australians without work.”
Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union secretary Owen Bennett said it was a “national emergency”.
“For years, both sides of politics have failed to address Australia’s employment crisis or the increasingly punitive social security system,” Bennett said.
“As a result, we now have three million Australians out of work and a social security system that forces millions of Australians to live in extreme poverty.
“This is a national emergency, nothing less. As a country, we can no longer afford a government that continues to ignore this crisis.”
In particular the alliance is calling for the government to:
- abolish Work for the Dole and Community Development Program (CDP)
- raise Newstart and Youth Allowance
- implement a federal job guarantee program
- provide adequate income security for older people
- reverse changes to the single parent pension
- abolish mandatory income management
- make necessary and positive changes to the punitive employment services industry
- loosen eligibility requirements for Disability Support Pension (DSP).
ACTU president Ged Kearney said the government needed to make positive policy changes.
“Australia is becoming a country with an underclass of unemployed people who are unable to find work, with 18 job seekers for every job vacancy,” Kearney said.
“We are also seeing crisis levels of youth unemployment, with more than 30 per cent of young people in some Australian towns unable to find a job.”
“Rather than penalising and punishing people who can’t find a job or are unable to work, the Turnbull Government should make positive policy changes that help these people get back on their feet or stay afloat.”
The alliance follows the Solving Our Employment Crisis conference which was held in Melbourne earlier this year, where the organisations agreed to work together to demand the government address “Australia’s employment crisis and the punitive social security system”.
Anti-Poverty Network SA coordinator Pas Forgione told Pro Bono Australia News there was a convergence of interest between the different organisations.
“In my time advocating for unemployed people and other people on income support that was really the first time that that sort of gathering took place and it was very impressive to see a convergence of interest and to see a recognition that attacks on unemployed people and attacks on sole parents and disability pensioners and other groups of people are income support are everyone’s business. These attacks not only hurt the people directly affected but are also harmful to the rest of the community,” Forgione said.
According to the statement this will be the first of many joint campaigns to this end.
Forgione said the alliance was “hopeful” but not “holding their breath”.
“I think it is pretty clear that the government’s agenda is not an agenda that is friendly to unemployed people and to other welfare recipients,” Forgione said.
“The most obvious and the most recent example of this is what is happening around the clean energy supplement and frankly we are appalled.
“The clean energy supplement represents the first real increase to the incomes of the unemployed in over 20 years and one of the first acts of the newly elected Turnbull government is to scrap that increase and we think that is staggering.
“We have a government that just doesn’t get it and when it comes to unemployment it is happy to blame the unemployed for being out of work and to foster all sort of harmful myths about unemployment. The government knows full well there aren’t enough jobs to go around, it is hardly a secret but it is much more convenient instead to blame the victims.
“We have no illusions about where the government stands on people on income support and we know there is a major fight to force the government to treat those out of work with respect and justice.”
Forgione said the culture of blaming the unemployed for being out of work was “a very nasty thing”.
“The fact of the matter is unemployment is a structural thing, it is built into the economy that there is simply not enough jobs to go around,” he said.
“The problem is our whole conversation on unemployment starts from the wrong place, it doesn’t start from this basic fact that the supply of jobs is small and the supply of people looking for jobs is big, it starts from the fact that if you are unemployed there must be something wrong with you, some lack of skill, some sort of deficiency, some lack of work ethic or motivation on your part that is stopping you from looking for work.
“We see this in the media, this constant language the use of terms like ‘welfare rorters’ and ‘dole bludgers’ which is meant to create the climate where people on income support are under suspicion, where it is assumed that they could in fact work but freely choose to survive on an income that is well below the poverty line.
“There is a massive need to change the entire conversation around unemployment partly because it is actually damaging the mental health of unemployed people for them to be blamed for being out of work, for them to be told it is their fault if they cannot find a job. Not only is this untrue, but unemployed people often internalise… and they end up blaming on themselves and that is completely wrong.
“Because frankly it is the government who is letting down unemployed people by not creating enough jobs to go around, not unemployed people who are trying their hardest to look for work, unemployed people desperately want to work because they don’t want to survive on $266 a week, they don’t want to live on an income that is way, way below the poverty line.”