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Daniel Blake and the Jobactive Providers of Doom

By Noah Wilderbeest

The new Ken Loach film, I, Daniel Blake will find resonance with anyone who has dealt with Centrelink over the past two decades. Blake (Dave Johns) is a fifty-something carpenter who, following a heart attack, is forced to deal with the bastardry of the Cameron government’s ‘welfare reforms’.

Loach pulls no punches in his portrayal of the victims of free market forces and austerity measures. The interminable waiting in telephone queues, the bureaucratic bungling, the deliberate cruelty toward those who dare ask the State for ‘hand-out’, and the ineffective practices and entrenched bullying of the Job Network agencies and Disability Support providers.

Trans-Ed: Working for the Clampdown

Ask Bill Shorten and he’ll tell you that the NDIS was to be the centre-piece of the Gillard government’s first term and was designed to provide those born with, or who had acquired a disability, a permanent safety net.

You know, the sort of thing that civilized administrations do to ensure the well-being of those at the greatest disadvantage.

Under the succeeding LNP government and its successive ministers, Andrews, Morrison, Porter and Cash, the roll out of the NDIS meant pushing the whole damned socialist scheme under a bus.

This bus is called “Transitional Education”.

In New-speak, “Transitional Education” is a generic term which the Abbott /Turnbull government likes to spin in an attempt to foster a sense of a slightly forward motion while actually remaining stock still on the issue of unemployment/underemployment.

Cobbled together from the remnants of Work for the Dole and the reappraised Disability Support Payment scheme, Trans-Ed or Foundation Skills as it is otherwise known, targets ‘transitioning’ welfare recipients including those on disability payments ‘ toward work’ as part of the government’s ongoing policy of war on welfare.

The scheme comes in two stages of nine months for each stage. For the agencies, contracted at $15,000 per head, the goal is to run the DSP recipient through both courses and reap between $300-360,000 of government subsidies per class of 20.

Like Work for the Dole, the new regulations governing payments to the handicapped are sold under the guise of ‘providing opportunity’, ‘helping the disabled gain entry to the work-force’ or ‘giving youth a chance to learn new skills’, when in fact the scheme is simply an extension of the same welfare bashing snake oil in a new bottle.

I should know. I’ve just spent nine months working as a “Trainer” with a Jobactive/DSP Provider and all of what follows is true…

From the outset, everything about the course was wrong. The class-room was the surrounded by windows on three sides and flanked by a car-park entrance and the reception area of the Jobactive provider. This meant that not only was it noisy but the glare from the windows made the white-board which doubled as a screen for the overhead projector all but unreadable, even for those sitting at the front of the room. Not that there was much space to write anything, as the bottom half of the board had been damaged and was unusable.

There were eight antique PC’s lined against one wall for the 20 ‘learners’. Only six worked.

Contradictions abounded. Almost all of the course units required the use of “research”, yet most of the on-line teaching/learning resources including YouTube, and educational game sites were blocked. When I tried to have them unblocked, I was told; “These are really just reserved for job-seekers and not for learners”. Welcome to market forces for the handicapped.

The new Kapo’s

Bullying and authoritarianism were the order of the day. During the early weeks of the course I was constantly reminded by management to “get tough on ‘em, don’t be too soft”.

At a “Professional Development” seminar, the presenter emphasized the importance of keeping a “professional distance” from the learners, and related the story of a trainer who had loaned a disabled learner the princely sum of $2.00 to replace a lost library card. “The trainer did the wrong thing!” he thundered. “They (the disabled), have got to learn to be independent and stand on their own two feet”. The irony of his statement was lost on him and on his audience who collectively and dutifully nodded in agreement.

It wasn’t long before I witnessed the ‘get tough on ‘em’ policy in action.

“Margret”, a woman in her mid-50s suffered from crippling depression. Wan and frail with heavy dark circles under her eyes, she told me that she had to force herself to leave the house. As a result she was often late or absent from class.

On a day she managed to attend, the course co-ordinator was taking the class. The co-ordinator immediately flew into her and began a tirade about punctuality, and “mutual obligation”. Margret was ushered into an interview room, she was joined by her case-officer.

I watched for half an hour as the the two of them brow-beat and bullied the unfortunate woman for the crime of arriving late to class. When Margret left, she never returned.

A few weeks later, her case officer approached me to tell me Margret had been breached (loss of all payments) for three months.

I wanted to punch the case officer in the face.

The course material was pure flannel. Designed for the severely intellectually disabled, its main purpose was to engage the “learner” in cutting pictures from magazines or newspapers and pasting them in work books. For six hours a day. Three days per week.

Politics and profit-making however, are about numbers and in the case of Class 1A, of the twenty claimants only three received a Disability payment. The rest, all of whom had made a claim for DSP but were in the process of being evaluated and remained on Newstart, were shunted into the course to make up a quorum.

Some were the victims of war, others are the result of working hard physical labour in factories or on construction sites, and whose bones and muscles were now worn out. Many were simply the victims of ‘market forces’ and unable to cope with a changing world that views them as redundant.

There were those suffering from epilepsy, depression, and heart conditions which, under the new guidelines, do not exclude them from looking for a job or doing voluntary work. I witnessed a gentle bear of a man have an epileptic seizure, and talented young artist shaking like a leaf during a panic attack. Both had their claims for disability payment rejected.

Davina, a woman in her early sixties, suffered a heart attack one week-end and similarly to Daniel Blake was left in limbo while her claim for DSP was processed. She scrambled desperately to be allowed to re-join the course but was rebuffed by the management “because we don’t want her having a another heart attack on the premises.”

When I left the job, Davina was still in limbo and in all likelihood has had her claim for DSP rejected and remains on Newstart with the requirement of looking for 40 jobs a month.

At the end of the course, the DS provider picked up a cheque for $180,000 of the tax payers’ hard earned for the twelve remaining learners in the course and were paid pro-rata for the eight who had either dropped out, or like Margret and Davina, had been forced out.

The learners were handed a piece of laminated cardboard bearing the DS providers logo and assured the world that the above named had attained completion of Transitional Education Stage One.

A $15,000 government funded ‘qualification’ for participating in an employment program which provides as many real world skills as an egg and spoon race.

The three learners classified as intellectually disabled were offered a place in stage two of the Trans-Ed program, the rest were told that they could take a ‘discounted’ Jobactive Provider approved course -Hospitality, Aged Care – at their own expense.

The corruption and inefficient practices the privatized, profit seeking employment agencies has been well documented in the mainstream media and long since exposed as fraud in both Australia and the UK.

The largest slice of the government subsidies pie to the JNS/DSP system is spent on executive salaries, and the car parks of the “not-for-profit” providers resemble show-rooms for late model eff-off size Beamer’s and Benz.

The Roy Morgan Research group estimates the real unemployment figures at 9.8% of the workforce and 8.0% for underemployed. According to the Australian Network on Disability, the unemployment rate for the disabled is around 9.4%. That’s nine people disabled people applying for one job.

The catch is that under the government’s new guidelines, the focus is on the 11.3% of the disabled clinically diagnosed as having mental or behavioral disabilities can qualify for DS payment, leaving the 83.9% of the physically disabled to the tender mercies of the job network providers and a private sector unable or unwilling to provide the necessary infrastructure to accommodate disabled employees.

In short, a system designed not to help the disabled but to knee-cap the handicapped.

I, Daniel Blake accurately and unerringly portrays the struggle faced by the victims of government “austerity measures” and the cruelty of a system administered by the providers of doom and designed to ‘weed-out’ the “lifters from the leaners”.

If the Jobactive/Disability Support Provider system were a human body, it would not only be pronounced dead but also in a state of putrefaction.

I, Daniel Blake is currently screening. Check independent cinema web-sites for details.




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  1. Jaquix

    When I needed them, a few years ago now *before the newfangled job providers, , Centrelink were very goid. Had a Case Manager who was helpful and made a difference, suggested courses which were good, and Im surs he didnt cost the country anxarm and a leg either.. The Libs wont be happy until they have reintroduced Workhouses which will take all the messy welfare recipients, disabled, infirm, aged, weak and vulnerable, so save so much money and they can spend it all on themselves.

  2. Robyn Dunphy

    Quoted from above: “The course material was pure flannel. Designed for the severely intellectually disabled, its main purpose was to engage the “learner” in cutting pictures from magazines or newspapers and pasting them in work books. For six hours a day. Three days per week.”

    While I am going to say “unbelievable”, I know only too well it is believable. Luckily for me I have so far avoided such activities,

    Thank you for this article. You’ve confirmed much that I suspected.

    @ Jaquix – yes, as I noted in my own article last week, Centrelink staff have always been nice to me, even now in the days of the Job Providers.

  3. Andreas Bimba

    The Modern Monetary Theory economists such as Professor Bill Mitchell of Newcastle University have a better understanding of macroeconomics and unemployment than any other branch of the economics profession. They know it is possible to have near to zero involuntary unemployment and underemployment within a few years.

    All it takes is fiscal stimulus and a federal government funded Job Guarantee program that serves as an employment provider for those that cannot find work in the wider economy. The work provided is socially, environmentally or economically beneficial and sufficiently well paid to ensure an adequate standard of living. Education and social support are also provided.

    Other governments that are more socially inclusive such as the Scandinavian countries, Austria and Japan have been able to ensure unemployment has always been low and yet Australians have repeatedly elected neoliberal governments that have year by year ensured the numbers of unemployed have increased and that their hardship has increased.

    Australia once had full employment policies where unemployment rarely exceed 2% from the second world war to the mid 1970’s when neoliberalism and Monetarist or ‘trickle down’ economics took over. This was sold as a way of improving productivity and ensuring that businesses and the wealthy were able to employ more people but was in fact really an ideology to transfer wealth upwards to the already wealthy.

    To all the unemployed, you are not to blame for your brutal lives and miserable job opportunities – your federal government is.

    Read this article by Bill Mitchell and you will know better how to realistically solve Australia’s unemployment tragedy better than our current Coalition federal government or the Labor opposition:

    What is a Job Guarantee?

  4. Harquebus

    Andreas Bimba.
    Please. Bill Mitchell and his MMT bullshit is not the magic solution to our problems.

    Here is something that I just finished reading and applies to the U.S.
    “there’s not enough work to go around, and what there is of it won’t pay the bills”
    “We won’t have any answers until we acknowledge that work now means everything to us – and that hereafter it can’t.”

  5. Trevor

    This story from someone within the guoulish privatised “employment” agencies, bells the cat and just indicates how f*cked up things have gotten. With LNP Ministers with the credibilty of godless heathens ( morriscum, porter, etc) engaged in orwellian misspeak, as the dept heads extrapolate their ministers deliberate opaque directions ending up punishing the needy instead of suppling the necessary help as they enrich “employment” agencies. My own son( now a suicide statistic) was forced to work for Bunnings for six week for no wages, no money to travel to works, no allowance given, in a form of modern slavery( hello Mr bullshit Forrest) and yet the agencies profit from the misery of unemployed, invalidity, pensioner, single parents or anyone else in need of welfare( except the welfare politicians steal as salary & perks) gets to be penalised instead of helped. Australia has become a country ruled by greed and yet another undeclared war, this time a war on the poor. How did the war on poverty get to be a war on the poor!!!

  6. stephentardrew

    This is absolutely heat breaking and yes Andreas there are viable solutions. Torture by any other name. Those whose responsibility it is to fulfil our moral obligation to the marginalised have failed miserably while corporate welfare reigns supreme. What a sick country we are. The media could not care less.

  7. Andreas Bimba

    Harquebus. We will never agree on this point as I have already responded a few times to your scepticism.

    Just as full employment was gradually restored after the Great Depression through government stimulus spending on infrastructure and later by WW2 which was also funded through stimulus spending the same applies just as equally now or at any time.

    Many have been duped by the neoliberal propaganda that unemployment is inevitably high but it is neoliberal policies themselves that have ensured high unemployment.

    Even though automation will eliminate many jobs, with good government policy new jobs can be created. For example agriculture has been heavily mechanised and employment greatly reduced but many new jobs have arisen in health and aged care as well as education, hospitality, tourism, entertainment and even sport for example.

    Economic stimulus can provide environmentally beneficial jobs as well if managed correctly in areas such as public transport, improving energy efficiency, rail freight, clean energy, reforestation, environmental conservation, better urban design, better housing, bike paths and similar. The extra money if managed correctly can speed the essential transition to environmental sustainability.

    You can’t say fiscal stimulus using ‘newly created money’ is bull shit as this source of money has been used before during times of war, during the post war period, to bail out the banks in recent times and by Japan to avoid the Great Depression and off and on to the present day. Even QE is a form of ‘newly created money’ that was used to buy back government bonds and thus provide cash to commercial banks and other financial institutions. There was negligible inflation and the money was just as real as that which was already circulating in the economy.


    Very sad and powerful comment Trevor.

  8. Harquebus

    Andreas Bimba
    I agree that we will never agree on MMT and is why I will not elaborate except to say;
    a) Fiat currencies can not do what increasing energy use has done.
    b) The jobs that you list feed off and can not exist without the productive sections of the workforce producing a surplus.

    I posted this over on John Kelly’s page. It is an interesting read regardless of one’s position.
    “Why does fiat money seemingly work.”

    Why Does Fiat Money Seemingly Work?


  9. mark

    The right wing nutters infiltration of centrelink and the abc is entrenched.They’ll all be looking for jobs soon.mark

  10. LOVO

    Robin, agree on Centrelink staff being “nice” and might I add “helpful” and “humane”. Just like one would expect from public servants. I, unlike you, have had the experience of “dealing” with an JSP, and could not help notice the stark difference between the public and private sector’s. The BS I had to endure from Case manager’s that could never provide an interview for a job, let alone a job….oh but they could readily provide a course..which one had to do …or else.
    Another of Howard’s privatisations that sure has contributed (ha) to Ausralian history….another of his legacies with which every day Australians have to “now” deal.
    One wonders- “What is it with right wingers and thier “need” to kick the little guy”.
    Privatisation = Half the service for twice the price…..or more if your an Job Service unProvider.
    The only solution I can see is for the govt. to introduce some sort of govt. run commonwealth employment service ….it would be cheaper and have more “service”.

  11. Möbius Ecko

    A little off track. Not content with having the most video surveillance of its citizens in the Western world, the UK has quietly bought in the most extreme cyber surveillance laws of any democracy ever.

    This is truly scary stuff, and I have no doubt the right of the Liberals here would like to go down the same path, especially Dutton and Brandis.

  12. Deanna Jones

    Thank you, Noah, for this valuable insider’s account. What a sham.
    Years ago when I was studying and also claiming a partial parenting payment the job network people were a nightmare. I was in full time uni, working several casual jobs (plus single parenting two children) and this job agency would not stop harassing me. The staff, including the manager, were extremely rude and condescending and could not seem to understand that I had several jobs already and did not therefore need their ‘help’. At the time I did not understand why they why they were so obtuse but later I realised how corrupt this system is. I know some people who have not claimed a Centrelink payment in years but still get letters from a job provider. Who knows how much these agencies are being paid for participants who do not exist. Their is also the issue of mothers of young children having their parenting roles disrupted by punitive social security arrangements. It irks me that parenting without a partner is not considered to be legitimate work or a contribution to society.

    “People with disabilities” is the way to refer to people with disabilities. We don’t say “the disabled” or “the handicapped” any more.

  13. Audioio

    I assume Noah Wilderbeest is not your real name and that you have adopted it to avoid being bullied for speaking the truth. Your article is not truthful enough. Please name the agency.

  14. Testybarkofanoldbiddy

    I’m with one of those DES agencies, I’m late fifties, with a partial capacity to work and I have found they are all the same. You might get small differences with a decent case manager, but they don’t stay in the system for long.

    It’s the same with Centrelink staff, you occasionally get someone who is understanding and helpful, and I always make a point of thanking and telling them how helpful they are. But in my experience, most have been rude, insensitive and authoritarian.

    Every single thing I have done to find myself work has been obstructed by the Job Agency, the staff and welfare policy. Much of the time, case managers are unaware of what the social security legislation is, and what is in the Job Active DEED – a document that all staff have to work with. That leaves the clients having to find this information out for themselves and be their own best advocate.

    Without warning I was dumped into a group program very similar to the one described in this article. In that group were many mature age unemployed such as myself, with good academic qualifications and lots of experience. Ironically one of the participants in the group had worked years ago in the old ‘social security system’. We were all long term unemployed.

    Many of the participants, both young and old were caring for elderly and sick relatives. On young man was studying at TAFE, caring for his sick father who had cancer and still had to come to this group every week. The group’s education materials were around resume building, interview skills etc. Case manager was experienced, but her information was out of date and her understanding of the material was inadequate. Youtube was the go to for lecture material around such things as cross cultural differences, the video lasted less than two minutes and stopped, a complete waste of time. Resume building skills were outdated.

    We were told we would be in this group every week until we found work. So we were essentially incarcerated. We sat for over two hours, without breaks, not given any water, and I was actually refused a toilet break, but insisted that if I didn’t go, they’d have to deal with something else other than my unemployment. I attended for four weeks until mercifully my case manager left and the network manager decided that I didn’t need the group.

    It had been suggested by my case managers that I do study, but I was in tertiary education for years and wanted work. However after being unemployed for so long I wanted to study again, to find a course that might network me with community organisations that could get to know me and hopefully gain work that way. In addition to getting the job network provider off my back. Study is considered a mutual obligation activity if you have a partial capacity to work.

    Currently I have enrolled in high vocational TAFE program done online, I have already completed exams and assignments, however this time my new case manager has argued that the government doesn’t recognise online study. Which is a load of rubbish and I have provided all the documentation including legislation and information from the department of humans services online website.

    Now I’m up for a job capacity review and have been told that all people arbitrarily are having their hours increased which will push me above the threshold for being able to study as part of my mutual obligation requirements.

    The system is just another probation and parole department for the unemployed.

  15. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Thanks very much, Noah Wilderbeest,

    for this insightful article and your recommendation to see this beautiful film about horrible reality in vulnerable people’s lives.

    I saw ‘I, Daniel Blake’ because I wanted to see how the human rights abuses of vulnerable people on Welfare would be portrayed.

    I was not disappointed. Fabulous depiction.

    Besides my daughter and I, there were 4 other people in the audience, (although it was the 7pm Sunday night viewing @ Kino in Collins St, Melbourne). I hope the 4pm viewing was better attended.

    I want everybody to see this film to get a feeling for the deliberate aggression imposed on vulnerable people, and the unfair conditions and sanctions imposed when participants cannot fit the strict regimes.

    That’s why I constantly advocate that we need compassionate policy-formation for vulnerable people on Welfare. DSP and Newstart recipients are targeted by this monster government run by the LNP frauds.

    The sad thing is that Labor is no better when it comes to compassionate policy-formation for Newstart recipients and they don’t even promise to be better than the LNP thugs.

    My respect for Labor will significantly be re-won when Labor starts advocating and publicly planning greater benefits for unemployed and under-employed people again by promoting significant increases to Newstart so it rises in reasonable proportion to the minimum wage.

  16. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Great post too, Testybarkofanoldbiddy @ 2.23 on 27 November.

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