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Work for the Dole Denounced as ‘Demonstrable Failure’ as Govt Announces Crackdown

1 May 2017 at 8:32 am
Wendy Williams
The social sector has reiterated calls to abolish the Work for the Dole program describing it as a “demonstrable failure” amid claims the government is set to crackdown on people who claim welfare payments while refusing to participate in the scheme.

Wendy Williams | 1 May 2017 at 8:32 am


Work for the Dole Denounced as ‘Demonstrable Failure’ as Govt Announces Crackdown
1 May 2017 at 8:32 am

The social sector has reiterated calls to abolish the Work for the Dole program describing it as a “demonstrable failure” amid claims the government is set to crackdown on people who claim welfare payments while refusing to participate in the scheme.

According to reports the upcoming budget on 9 May aims to close a “loophole” that allows payments to continue despite people refusing interviews or placements.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said there was a “cohort of people” in Australia that actively said no to suitable work.

“I think all taxpayers would rightly expect that those who can work should work and our welfare system should be there as a genuine safety net, not as something that people can choose to fund their lifestyle,” Cash said.

However the Australian Council of Social Service has described Work for the Dole as “punitive in its approach” and called for it to be replaced.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie told Pro Bono News the evidence showed the program was not delivering positive outcomes.

“Work for the Dole is a costly, demonstrable failure. It is punitive in its approach and does nothing to create sustained employment,” Goldie said.

“The last review of the program in 2015 showed that it improved a person’s chance of getting a job by just 2 per cent, yet the government spends an extraordinary $200 million a year on it.

“With compelling evidence that this expensive program is not delivering positive outcomes, we have to ask the question: Where is the government’s real commitment to jobs, education and training?”

The comments come just weeks after Cash quashed reports that the expenditure review committee had discussed ending the program.

She said the government remained “absolutely committed” to it.

“Work for the Dole is fundamental to our efforts to get people off welfare and into work,” Cash said.

“The government will not be abolishing Work for the Dole. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply incorrect.”

The move has been slammed by the social sector with the St Vincent de Paul Society also lending its voice to calls for the scheme to be abandoned.

St Vincent de Paul Society national policy advisor Corinne Dobson told Pro Bono News it was “extremely disappointing”.

“We’ve been consistently opposed to the scheme because we see it as punitive, and as a program that effectively demonises the unemployed and doesn’t really do anything to build their skills or improve their job prospects,” Dobson said.

“It’s taken money away from other approaches and programs that would be much more effective in supporting people into employment, such as vocational education and training. And critically I think it is really job creation where we need to have action from the government.

“A lot of these approaches are premised on the assumption that there is a problem with individuals, that unemployment is because of some failing of the individual whereas we know the actual labour market is very tight. We see for every one job there are about four jobseekers and about 10 if you take into account underemployment as well.

“So we are really concerned and disappointed that the government don’t look as if they’re abolishing the scheme.”

Dobson said talks of closing a “loophole” were a “real concern”.

“I assume what she is referring to is the fact that, if job seekers don’t meet their compliance activities, and that can include Work for the Dole… they can lose their unemployment benefit… for up to eight weeks,” she said.

“Currently the system is actually quite punitive and has quite severe penalties but there are instances where that penalty can be waived.

“So if for example that person might have potentially been ill, they may not have turned up to an appointment because there was a legitimate reason why they weren’t able to do so, then the penalty can be waived. With some job providers also, if someone misses one appointment they don’t apply the penalty if the person rapidly reengages so there is some discretion for the job provider.

“We believe that the current system is already quite severe and the suggestion that the government is tightening it even further is a real concern for us.”

Dobson said St Vincent de Paul Society was particularly concerned the current system was leading to the growth of “the working poor”.

“One of the real concerns that we see is that growth in underemployment and people who are caught in temporary short-term casual forms of employment and are permanently in that kind of cycle,” she said.

“Michaelia Cash mentioned that the crackdown was also on people who were refusing to take up job opportunities with the implication being that they were using it to ‘fund their lifestyles’.

“Firstly if you are living on Newstart allowance you are not probably having a very extravagant lifestyle and we overwhelmingly find that people who are unemployed and able to work are desperate to find employment. So they are not choosing to remain in that situation.

“So the other concern is that having a regime where people are compelled and coerced into accepting any job opportunity, irrespective of whether it is appropriate or whether it is temporary or not, is compounding that issue of precarious and insecure employment and the growth in that kind of employment.

“I think one of the trends that we’re seeing is a cohort of people who are locked in a vicious cycle where they are in temporary, often inappropriate, forms of employment and then they go back into being unemployed.

“For our services we are seeing a lot more people who might be in some form of casual or part time employment but they don’t have enough money to live on and often they are finding themselves falling back into unemployment as I mentioned and so that is another aspect to our concerns around what the government is proposing to do.”

Goldie said people needed support that worked.

“Over 70 per cent of people who are receiving Newstart have been out of paid work for over a year. This growth in long-term unemployment is serious and people need support that works, not a program that has already been shown to be a failure,” she said.

“Work for the Dole should be replaced with education and training, paid work experience and supports that are tailored to help a person find real employment.   

“The funding should be applied to a careers transitions program to include careers counselling for people who really need it.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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