By Mark Thompson
While the rate will be raised, the Morrison government has promised to be tougher on those who need welfare in order to survive.
In handing down the Federal Budget, the government offered welfare recipients both the carrot and the stick. In the same breath where they promised an increase to JobSeeker (by $50 a fortnight), the Morrison government announced stricter measures, designed to crack down on those who are “not genuine” about receiving welfare.
It’s worth noting that the minor increase will be applied to the original pre-COVID welfare rate, which gave recipients $40 a day on which to survive. A raised welfare rate has been repeatedly asked for from welfare groups, the opposition, and even former Liberal Party Prime Minister, John Howard, who said that the “freeze had gone on for too long.” The reality of $40 a day is brutal. In 2019, Lisa Carberry spoke to The Guardian about her life on welfare, stating that: “I now have $9.95 to last me for the next two weeks… I have to either not pay a bill or access charities for food and things in order to continue to tread water… that’s really what it is. It’s treading water. It’s not swimming.”
After the increase, recipients will receive $44 a day.
Indeed, as Evin Priest of News.com.au discovered, there are three rental properties in the entire country that those on JobSeeker can actually afford.
Yet, while more and more Australians face the very real possibility of homelessness, the Morrison government has announced that they’re going to be tougher on those who receive welfare. The government says it is “strengthening mutual obligations” allegedly to provide “better support for job seekers in their search for work.”
Per News, “The government will spend $197 million to ‘enable’ job seekers to take part in an ‘intensive activity’ after six months of unemployment, including participating in approved intensive short courses, with some job seekers required to participate in the Work for the Dole program.”
Heinously, they’re going ahead with a ‘dob-in’ line where employers can snitch on those who they feeling aren’t trying hard enough. In February, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert described the move as, “an abuse of power that will hurt the most vulnerable in our community”.
“The job provider system is already rife with bullying (and) harassment of people being ignored or treated very poorly by their job providers and now the government is empowering employers with the means to intimidate and bully job seekers,” she said.
The increase will be applied to the original pre-COVID welfare rate, which gave recipients $40 a day on which to survive. After the increase, they will receive $44 a day.
Social Services Minister Anne Rushton said, “In doing this, we have balanced their incentive to work and making sure we have a sustainable welfare system into the future… not only today but into the future.”
Labour market economist Jeff Borland said there is “no evidence” that the increased coronavirus supplement stopped job seekers looking for work and even a “substantial increase” in unemployment benefits would not provide a disincentive to take a job.
In conversation with the Senate community affairs legislation committee, Borland said that there was “no evidence the higher jobseeker rate in 2020 has had any appreciable effect on incentives to take up paid work.”
As Paul Karp of The Guardian noted, “The evidence, supported by the social policy academic Peter Whiteford, contradicts concerns from Coalition backbench MPs and anecdotal evidence from employers that jobseekers are turning down work.”
In 2019, an article resurfaced that stated that the Morrison government will institute a plan to relocate jobseekers to go and pick fruit. The language of the piece is staggering. “Dole bludgers who refuse to take jobs at farms will have their Centrelink payments slashed as part of a national push to help Aussie farmers prepare for the upcoming harvest season,” Jack Houghton wrote in The West Australian.
Within the article, Morrison said that “Our government has heard from farmers…about how tough it is now to find workers, particularly at the height of harvest season for some crops…we want to highlight exactly where the jobs are and make sure jobseekers know where to be looking. While we’re tackling the labour shortage this also ensures job seekers on taxpayer support have no excuse to refuse opportunities.”
At the time, the fruit farmers excoriated Morrison’s plan. Under the proposal, the unemployed would be shepherded out of their homes and their communities under the threat of having their benefits cut. Whether this plan is dead, or not, is largely irrelevant, as it points to a larger pattern. Clearly, the Coalition loves a deterrent, one formed on the assumption that those who are unemployed are unemployed by choice.
“35% of the Federal Budget,” said Joe Hockey back in 2014, claiming we spent more on welfare than “on any other single policy area including health, education or defence.” It actually turned out to be 19.5%, which made us the 25th out of 30 OCED nations. In a 2018 measure by the same institution, our welfare spending shrank from 23.5% in 2015 to 17.8% of our GDP.
In 2014, the Coalition instituted stricter welfare conditions that saw applicants saddled with a six-month waiting period. At the time, The Guardian revealed that “failure to attend Centrelink appointments and mandatory Jobseeker activities will see prospective welfare recipients punished with a further two-month delay to their payments. This measure will disproportionately punish job seekers in remote areas with limited access to services.”
In February of that year, the ABS noted that there were 140,000 jobs for 700,000 applicants. Despite this, Hockey explained the measures as “an incentive… and if they have to move to get a job, that’s just the way it is.” In the words of the then Federal Minister of Employment Eric Abetz in the same year, the unemployed should just “try harder.”
In May 2020, Scott Morrison uncovered the ‘JobMaker’ plan, with the Prime Minister labelling it a “plan for a new generation of economic success.”
It was later revealed that the program created 609 jobs, well short of the 450,000 it promised.
Oddly, the paltry figure is viewed as a win. As Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy put it, “the program has done its work, frankly.”
This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.
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