‘Dysfunctional’ jobactive system slammed by users
29 June 2022 at 4:24 pm
People who use jobactive are frustrated at a lack of support from those supposed to help them find work – but there is hope the new system rolling out from July will be an improvement.
Perhaps the most significant revelation to come out of ACOSS’ latest report into the jobactive system lies in the name of the report – Voices 2: results of a survey of people who used jobactive.
This title reflects one of the survey’s most important findings – that people want to be listened to as a person, and not defined as someone who is unemployed.
The report takes in responses from 299 people who use jobactive, and the findings are damning.
Respondents criticised the fairness, usefulness and quality of the services they used. Three quarters reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with jobactive, while only 10 per cent were satisfied.
Many respondents said they felt their jobactive appointments were nothing more than a “tick a box exercise”.
Anonymous quotes from people who use jobactive underscore their frustration: “[It] just increases my stress and anxiety”; “a complete waste of time and a waste of taxpayers’ money”; “every time I’ve asked for help, I get told its ‘unrealistic’”; “a dysfunctional system”.
What are the key findings?
The Voices 2 report made a number of negative findings.
A revolving door of consultants meant that 59 per cent of respondents reported not seeing the same consultant regularly. Consultants were also seen as being unsympathetic by 62 per cent of respondents, and 65 per cent said they did not provide the appropriate support.
The report found that 89 per cent of those surveyed thought it was important to have a say over the requirements in their job plan, but 65 per cent of them did not get to choose those activities. Activity hours also came under fire, with 75 per cent of people saying the hours of activity weren’t right for them, and 52 per cent saying the job plan did not accommodate their disability or caring responsibilities.
The poor service continued during COVID lockdowns; 126 respondents to the survey had been in lockdown for more than a month, and of those, 74 per cent said they had not been offered useful services, and 66 per cent said providers were not flexible about making changes to job plan requirements.
Payment suspensions were highlighted as being unfair by 61 per cent of respondents; 58 per cent said they had received demerit points due to errors made by providers and 66 per cent had received payment suspensions due to provider errors.
Respondents told ACOSS that the suspensions led to high levels of stress and anxiety, and even caused them to miss rent payments.
A total of 70 per cent of respondents said it was difficult to make a complaint, with 72 per cent saying they did not believe their complaint would result in changes being made to the service.
But there were some positive experiences too, usually when support was flexible and fast and met people’s needs, such as providing them with equipment or licences that helped them find employment.
New system, new start?
Based on the feedback received in the survey, the Voices 2 report made a number of recommendations for the new service, Workforce Australia, which will replace jobactive from 4 July:
- Provide practical support to people flexibly and quickly, such as providing equipment or licences that enable people to secure jobs.
- Avoid activities and appointments that are unproductive, cause stress or that are expensive to attend.
- Enable users of employment services to negotiate requirements in a way that is consultative and flexible.
- Improve personalisation, choice and control so that employment services give people more agency in their search for jobs.
- Ensure that Workforce Australia providers can access a wider variety of supports for people.
- Eliminate automatic payment suspensions because they are unfair and harmful.
- Ensure that people are not forced to use online employment services if these are not accessible or user friendly.
- Ensure that points-based activation is user-friendly.
- Improve the accessibility and accountability of complaints processes.
Federal employment minister Tony Burke announced on Tuesday that job seekers would begin the new service with “a clean slate”, after a number of changes were made to Workforce Australia by the new government, ahead of its launch.
Workforce Australia will be based on a points-based activation system, which Burke said would “give participants more choice and control over how they meet their mutual obligation”.
Under the new government’s clean slate policy, those who have accrued penalties or demerits under jobactive will start fresh under Workforce Australia.
Other changes made include an increase in the points value attached to certain activities that can be undertaken by people using Workforce Australia, and reducing the minimum job search requirement from five per month to four.
The new government has also reduced the points target for some participants to recognise the impact of personal circumstances or a weak job market on their ability to find employment.
Changes not enough
Dr Peter Davidson, principal advisor at ACOSS, said the organisation had hoped to see other changes that would make a difference to people using the service.
“There are significant improvements on the old system, but it still carries a lot of the baggage of the old system,” he told Pro Bono News.
“The concerns and the baggage from the previous system include the automation of payment suspension. So if you don’t apply for your… jobs… then two days later you’ll get a text telling you your payment has been paused or suspended and that’s an automated text done by computer.
“And a lot of people will not have the opportunity to speak with someone… and as we know from the Robodebt experience, once you put penalties on autopilot through the IT system, it’s very dangerous for people.”
He said many of the requirements that remain in the system are unreasonable and unhelpful in assisting people to find employment.
“Prominent among those is work for the dole, which we have never thought improved people’s employment prospects. It was largely introduced as a punishment for people who are unemployed, and it’s been in the system for too long,” Davidson said.
“It’s time to end that and move on to employment assistance that actually makes a difference, such as wage subsidies or vocational training, so that the things that people are required to do are things that actually help them.”
Further challenges remain for people out of work
The Voices 2 report also highlighted that many people stuck using jobactive should have in fact been on the Disability Support Pension (DSP), but were unable to access it.
“The latest stats have around 40 per cent of people on unemployment payments having a partial work capacity. That is an assessed disability,” Davidson said.
He said applying for the DSP had been made “very complicated”, rendering it too difficult for many people to access.
“As a consequence of all of that, there are a whole lot of people who really ought to be on the [disability] pension, who are languishing on the jobseeker payment, which is $170 a week less, and having to go through the motions of activity requirements, which are just not appropriate,” he said.
“They’re stuck in this system and that has to be fixed.”
But Davidson said there appeared to have been a shift in the wider community’s perceptions of unemployed people, with “less resistance” to ACOSS’ calls to increase unemployment payments.
“Where it hasn’t yet shifted is in the labour market; there is still a reluctance on the part of employers to consider people for even entry level jobs who have that… unexplained gap in their résumé,” he said.
“That really needs to change because you can have the best employment service in the world – but if employers are reluctant to take people on or even trial them to give them a chance, then no employment service will function.”
View the full Voices 2 report on the ACOSS website.