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Vulnerable Jobseekers Are Invisible

Vulnerable Jobseekers need strong leadership. A shift away from a budget-savings model to a compassionate, supportive jobseeker-focused model is needed. The diverse needs of jobseekers, particularly vulnerable jobseekers, are ignored within the jobsearch framework and welfare reforms. Vulnerable Jobseekers are becoming increasingly invisible.

Vulnerable Jobseekers – Increasingly Invisible

Think of the word ‘Jobseeker’ and close your eyes. Who do you see?

The jobsearch and welfare framework ignores the diversity of people seeking employment. The shifts in the jobsearch framework over time have sought to encompass more and more welfare recipients. This is a concern because it neutralises the personal circumstances of the individual. The label ‘jobseeker’ will apply to almost all jobless individuals under the current Welfare Reform Bill.

Vulnerable people in dire circumstances and highly experienced former workers are viewed through the lens of sameness and homogeneity.

Invisible and Inexcusable

The term jobseeker is an active term – one who seeks a job. This also disguises the involuntary nature of the act of job seeking for many. Cases of terminally ill individuals forced to seek work have been brought to light over recent years.

The shifts in policy over time, also place a cloak of silence over the most vulnerable in society. Explicit in the current welfare reform bill, and implicit in the language of Government is that the vulnerable people will no longer have ‘excuses’ for not meeting job search requirements.

In other words, legitimate behaviour displayed in the face of complex life circumstances will render vulnerable jobseekers and disabled jobseekers inexcusable. Their normal behavioural response to complex situations, intolerable and punishable by law.

The most vulnerable suffer the most in this type of punitive system.

Increased Participation

The aim of Governments over time is to increase participation of disabled people in work. The Liberal-National Coalition and Labor Governments have supported shifting disability support pension (DSP) recipients off the DSP and transferring them to the lower paid Newstart.

The Welfare to Work reforms, under the Howard Government, is the most significant change-point in the jobsearch framework for disabled people. Reducing welfare debt, by decreasing the number of DSP Recipients, was the main economic driver of these reforms.

‘Disabled people should not be left behind’, has been the mantra of both the Coalition and Labor Governments.

The System is the Problem

There are some success stories for enabling vulnerable jobseekers into new work. However, people with an episodic mental illness can experience more distress and increased barriers in this system.

Many disabled recipients are now on the lower rate of Newstart. They do not qualify for the DSP. A review of the Welfare to Work changes indicated that among people with disabilities, 67 percent experienced no change, 29 per cent were financially worse off and 3 per cent were better off. Income losses were up to $99 a week.

In addition, since 2006, the financial penalties for ‘non-compliance’ are more wide reaching and harsh.

This will only become more prevalent under the current Welfare Reform Bill. This is because reasonable behavioural responses to complex life problems are considered ‘unacceptable excuses’.

Financial stress is an identified barrier to employment and positive mental health. This is a serious concern because this group already live 20% under the poverty line.

Quick Through-Put

Industry concern at the time of the pilot testing of the Welfare to Work Reforms for disabled participants was the shift to outcome-based payments for service providers.

In essence, a concern of a quick churn out culture. That is a lack of consideration for quality job matching or individual job seeker supports and a focus on placing vulnerable jobseekers in any job.

Some eleven years and five Prime Ministers later, after thousands have experienced disadvantaged, unfair expectations and punishment for non-compliance; the Reference Group for Welfare Reforms (McClure et. al) have highlighted quick throughput as an issue.

The Government recommendation in 2015 was to increase payments linked to outcomes. Seventy percent of funding is now linked to 26-week outcomes. A change from 40% previously. However, this is not particularly ideal.

A Change in Funding Approach

The other change John Howard implemented was a shift from block funding to the outcome-based funding of employment services. Once again, five Prime Minister’s later, this approach has become increasingly accepted and embedded. I despair at the acceptance of this approach by both major parties, with little review or criticism.

Arguments for outcome-based funding models are usually from an economic-centric rationale focused on budget savings – rather than a client-centric rationale – focused on quality outcomes from the client’s perspective.

An Enabling Environment for Attacks on Jobseekers

I would strongly argue that outcome-based funding is a serious contributor to the deteriorating support and cultural attitudes displayed towards jobseekers, as reported by organisations such as the Australian Unemployed Workers Union.

There is a plethora of personal recounts by vulnerable people in extremely dire circumstances. Involuntary jobsearch and financial penalties apply to this group.

Personal Recounts such as:

“I came close to committing suicide because of the way Max treated me” – A First Hand Account and

Centrelink and Job Agencies Discriminate Against the Sick

Are heartbreaking recounts where privately contracted employment agencies not only exacerbated mental health conditions but seemingly were the reason the mental health condition was introduced in the first place.

Absolutely unacceptable.

A Stronger Shift To Outcome Based Funding

Personally, since the late 1990’s I have expressed concern about the shift in funding models. I have had a consistent concern since its inception that the personal financial breaching of jobsearch participants, impedes outcomes and punishes individuals unnecessarily.

I express serious concern that a higher percentage of 26-week outcome-based funding for employment agencies, is more likely to increase punitive measures on vulnerable participants. It is more likely to see vulnerable jobseekers with an episodic disability placed in the too hard basket and increased penalties applied, and less complex clients given more time and attention.

Most outcome-based employment services contracts have tiers of payment, where people who face more difficulty finding and sustaining work attract higher payments (Department of Employment 2015; Lu, 2014). Despite this, several studies found that the incentives to service the most difficult clients were insufficient: these clients had poorer outcomes, were underserved, or ‘parked’ (Business Council of Australia 2014; Koning and Heinrich 2013; National Audit Office 2015). At the other end of the spectrum, ‘cream skimming’, the practice of favouring easier to serve clients, was also evident (Davidson and Whiteford 2012). (Emma Tomkinson, 2016)

An Empty Echo Chamber

The jobsearch framework has evolved into an empty echo chamber. Complex life-situations of homeless people, women escaping domestic violence, individuals recovering from sexual trauma, the physically disabled, those with psychiatric disabilities, silent disabilities and homeless young people, for example, are all viewed as ‘excuses not to seek employment’.

There are many recipients now on Newstart who have undiagnosed mental health conditions. Also many with diagnosed mental health conditions in regional and rural areas cannot access the appropriate services and treatment. In turn, they are financially penalised for this lack of investment in support.

There are many individuals who are treated blatantly unfairly, financially punished and driven to the depths of despair, exacerbating mental health conditions and some committing suicide. This is absolutely unacceptable.

This is a very under-reported phenomenon in the mainstream media. These individuals receive little voice by way of organised protest. These vulnerable citizens receive little attention in the political space.

When a situation such as the Robo-Debt disaster occurs, there is a furore about mistreatment and unfair and harsh measures. However, largely, politics ignores the unfairness and punishment jobseekers experience.

Strong Leadership is urgent now, to completely review this system and develop in its place a jobseeker-centric model of employment support.

A Jobseeker-Centric Model

The Welfare Reform changes occurred in 2006 and further reiterations of Howard’s model have occurred over time. These reiterations are by both the Liberal-National Coalition and the Labor Governments.

Specialised support services have deteriorated, such as JPET. The Gillard Government moved to a one size fits all one-stop shop model. Also, smaller community-based organisations were less likely to win contracts. In their place, much larger ‘financially stable’ organisations won tenders. This saw the merger of many smaller community-based employment services and the demise of some. Lost under these changes were local knowledge and expertise and a community-centric focus.

The current shift by the Abbott-Turnbull Government imposes further difficulty on vulnerable jobseekers. This is through a higher compliance for employment services for 70% 26-week outcomes. Agencies will leave complex jobseekers behind and pursue the outcomes which fund them.

The shift to wielding a much bigger stick by focusing on ‘unreasonable excuses and compliance’ for vulnerable people and more punitive measures, is frankly, quite frightening. The shift to homogenise the diversity of jobseekers is a major concern, as to the future ramifications of this move.

A shift to a client-centric model focused on quality outcomes as self-reported by the client is now urgent and essential.

Strong Leadership Urgent!

Strong leadership in this space is crucial and quite urgent. A shift towards a jobseeker-centric model requires an enormous shift in thinking by political parties.

It requires a shift from a budget savings approach. A shift from the underpinning thought that jobseekers do not want to work. The satisfaction of jobseekers and a focus on needs-based supports and outcomes is crucial. A shift towards recognising episodic illness and complex life situations.

Crucially, a shift away from forced participation. An objective underpinned by financial penalties for vulnerable people. Vulnerable jobseekers are in complex circumstances and are already living under the poverty line.

It is simply hypocrisy to participate in the CEO Sleep Out during Homelessness week and actively contribute to the harsh regime that contributes to it.

Intimidation and Bullying

The Government frames jobseekers as potential employees. However, the bullying, intimidation and punitive measures imposed upon them, in the most unreasonable manner, would not be acceptable in any organisation.

How can a Government remain unchallenged in this space? Should privately contracted companies receive a reward for the harsh treatment of vulnerable jobseekers?

Why is the mistreatment and harsh punishment of vulnerable people, considered a ‘positive outcome’ in this policy sphere?

Jobseeker Satisfaction

Organisations that value their employees take job satisfaction seriously. Jobseeker satisfaction should be central to jobsearch models because it will enable jobseeker focused continuous improvements.

Assessment of job satisfaction for new workers is vital. Vulnerable workers self-reporting workplace bullying also a serious concern. Corporate culture and attitudes towards long-term unemployed new workers is also critical to understand.

Visible Jobseekers

A jobseeker centred model will push the current model out of the comfort zone it has been in for twenty years. A model which gives voice to jobseekers will push Governments to respond to build a better model focused on supportive outcomes.

A jobseeker centred model is essential because it will make jobseekers visible again. It will give jobseekers personal agency. Vulnerable jobseekers will have a stronger internal locus of control. They will give voice to the access and supports they need.

Exposed will be the urgent need for Job Creation. This will place pressure on lazy Governments who do not meet their responsibilities in this space.

I hope for future where the privately contracted punitive outcome-based model is extinct and a nationalised public sector operated, jobseeker centric model, focused on quality supports and jobseeker satisfaction exists in its place.


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  1. Michael Taylor

    Oh what a failed program Howard’s Welfare to Work (W2W) was, but with Hockey running it, what else would it have been?

  2. Joseph Carli

    Even worse, some regional environmental groups that received govt’ funding were “encouraged” (read; forced) to take on aged unemployed as “work for the dole” mutual obligation participants and find jobs for them to do without adequate saftey and supervision…Many were near retirement people from larger regional centres with health issues and in some cases dire poverty and so were under so much pressure to travel great mileage to compulsorily attend, thereby putting their dole at risk if conditions breached..cruel and inconsiderate…common LNP policy a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to say that NO LNP social policy WOULD be considered unless it had some form of cruel or torture based clause in it to torment the citizen.

  3. win jeavons

    And then there are seriously ill folk for whom there are NO jobs, yet refused sickness benefit. DSP apparently only reserved for the bedridden or dying!

  4. Kathy Heyne

    This was a pretty good article, but I mist have missed the paragraph about there not being enough jobs.

  5. Trish Corry

    Yes you did. In the part where it says a change in structure will push lazy Governments into job creation.

  6. Max Gross

    There’s a nifty three word government slogan for this: KILL THE POOR

  7. Aussie Pride

    Every word true. Labor had better stop voting for this abuse to continue. The LNP and conservative political parties are the most abusive i have ever known to be in Australia. I hope people come to understand voting for them supports these cruel & torturous practices. They are assisting in tormenting people into choosing suicide as the only way out. It defies belief.

    What i’m even more concerned about is the apparent abuse that is commonly accepted as appropriate behaviour in Job Service Providers. They actually think they have a right to cain and torture and abuse the disabled and vulnerable. It’s sickening, and they are blind to their own actions.

    Human rights abuses with this government is sky high, and with the JSP’s and those who work for them. They should be prosecuted. How can we possibly see a domestic violence perpetrator as evil, yet not see this government and it’s practices as the same? It’s all from the same playbook. The same tactics. The same behaviours. The same outcomes. Horrifying. Absolutely horrifying.

    So a domestic violence animal torturing his/her victim is a jailable offence that costs the country millions & destroys lives, but the Liberal government can torture Australians, deny them their civil rights, and enforce it with the law? Unconstitutional! These are civil rights issues.

    People working for the JSP’s need to take a good look at themselves. Absolute disgust!

  8. Aussie Pride

    Any chance of a Royal Commission being held once Labor get in?

  9. Harquebus

    Job creation is oh so yesterday.

    “Also, not nearly enough people understand that it has absolutely nothing to do with money. That you can’t go out and buy more or better energy sources. Which is why we use EROEI instead of EROI (Energy Return on Investment), because the latter leaves some sort of financial interpretation open that doesn’t actually exist, it suggests that a financial price of energy plays a role.”

    The Dynamics of Depletion

    Job creation strategies will all fail. High unemployment and resource shortages is something that we need to prepare for now.

  10. babyjewels10

    Well said, Aussie Pride. But what are the chances of an ounce of fairness and respect for the unemployed if Labor wins the next election. I really don’t know.

  11. Aussie Pride

    Bill Shorten has already stated he will seriously consider a Federal ICAC. Several Labor ministers voted for it, to put all those corrupt Liberals in jail finally!!!! If he’ll back a Royal Commission into Banking, he most certainly will for this as it’s all on the LNP.

    Let’s go the whole hog and turn our country around. As the market becomes even more casualised, this will touch everyone, so it will become a prime mover, we are already talking about basic incomes, so watch this space.

    Renewables are unstoppable, and when the money of the COAL criminals starts to run out, so will their power to corrupt our politicians. The housing industry rort will burst no matter what anyone tries to do to save it, there’s only so much corruption that can be done before it all goes to hell.

    Labor would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to know they can champion a Royal Commission into this, a Federal ICAC, drop the CGT and Neg gearing on housing, fix Centrelink and back Renewables all the way..and they’ll destroy the LNP and disarm all right wing minors in one fell swoop.

    At that stage, as long as they are reasonably competent in governance, they can write their own cheque. Labor could govern with a whopping 75% majority for well into 15 years!

    Email Bill Shorten at the Federal level, Labor are gathering in South Australia this week to plan their strategy for the coming election with Jay.

    Hang in there Babyjewels10. Aussies have had enough. Viva the Revolution!

  12. Aussie Pride

    I forgot to give respect and acknowledgement to the Greens. They have championed a Federal ICAC for ages, and are ramping up petitions as we speak. Discussions have already hit the MSM about how to fund it and how to structure it. Further..Some Greens Senators have openingly supported the Unemployed Workers Union. So..salute to the Greens.

  13. Helen Bates

    Now that Greens bloke Ludlan has stepped down maybe Tony Abbott will admit to his citizenship too

  14. Andreas Bimba

    And they vote for more. The local Liberal MP’s in my area are alll appalling.

  15. babyjewels10

    You’ve cheered me up no end, Aussie Pride! I hope you’re right!

  16. Ella miller

    I wonder if the government would be better off looking at the companies, that, job seekers have to attend as a part of their commitment.
    My daughter was attending such a service every 2 weeks as required ….after the longest time not being provided with an interview for a job she complained. Then as a response they started sending her to interviews for jobs that she had no hope of getting. Yet every 2 weeks this company claimed money off the government for supposedly helping her to get a job.She became so depressed ,she dropped out of the system completely. I wonder how many of these companies are ripping off the government in the same manner??
    A disgraceful government , which has NO MORAL COMPASS. SHAME ON THEM ALL…
    Labor it is time to hear from you or do you have laryngitis ?

  17. Florence nee Fedup

    Putting more pressure on many unemployed especially the vulnerable & with disabilities will only add to their pressures, making them less able to work.

  18. Owen

    Job Services Australia, perfecting the art of turning the unemployed into a commodity.
    Four Corners ‘Jobs Game’ (2015) program is worth a look – whistle-blowing, claims of wide spread rorting, criminality and significant fraud (40% of fees paid to agencies verifiable in 2012).

    ICAC now!

    How Private Companies Steal From The Welfare State:

  19. Freetasman

    IMO as long as we have a neoliberal party in power things will not change. Yes will be better under the ALP but not ideal.
    The old among us will remember the ALP policy “reciprocal obligation” which under Howard changed the name to “mutual obligation” but with the same purpose to demanding welfare recipients meet certain obligations such as the unemployed being required to meet job search quotas, attend compulsory make-ready interviews, undertake training or work experience.
    People also have to remember from where come the idea of forming the committee of enquiry to develop a National Competition Policy, yes you guessed it, Paul Keating.
    If we like to have a change we have to vote for those politicians that are not neoliberal, as simple as that.

  20. Trish Corry

    If you see the article I linked it details the history of the JobSearch framework. It is not technically correct that mutual obligation under Labor and Liberal were the same. However, I am 100% opposed to financial penalty and involuntary jobsearch regardless of who does it. Also context matters. Once again, if you look at the history during Keating there were skills shortages and transitioning to new skills (he did rejig the economy) and that was for mainstream jobseekers which are known as stream 4 or job ready today. Neo Liberal should also be used in context. There is a huge difference between what Keating introduced and what Thatcher did.

  21. Freetasman

    Trish I do not dispute that Regan/Thatcher were different to Keating but I still thinking that Keating macroeconomic policies were based on neoliberal ideology.
    Keating started the mutual obligation and that gave the base to Howard to reform it to suit his government agenda.

  22. Trish Corry

    As mentioned before I have detailed there history in the link where it says financial penalties. Regardless of the intent in the 80s which were nothing like after Howard got in, breaching and involuntary are not acceptable. I would argue that it did not give the base to Howard, as Howard’s reforms were based on “giving back” for your dole. It was a cultural shift under Howard. The Rudd Gillard reforms in my opinion did a lot of damage by eradicating specialised supports. However in saying that, the one stop shop model was a model of Creans as well when he was employment minister. In my article I ask for leadership for a cultural shift. I think it is more important to think about what that shift should look like. Every iteration under both parties has not been job seeker focused. It needs to change. It doesn’t matter what someone did in the 80s because it was supported by what other countries were doing as well. It’s time for a different outlook. The funding model is important and individual based funding or block funding is much better than outcome based funding. It’s a very good paper I linked in the quote if you want a read.

  23. Freetasman

    Trish, I agree with you that we have to look to the future but we have to agree that if the basic macroeconomics theory does not change dramatically the recovery for the poor, for the sick and other welfare dependants will be very slow indeed almost as a trickle down for the others classes.

  24. Trish Corry

    I am absolutely not interested in discussing MMT if that’s where this is heading. We can treat jobseekers with respect and dignity under any economic framework … well maybe not that weird libertarian one where they scream that taxes are theft.

  25. Freetasman

    “We can treat jobseekers with respect and dignity under any economic framework ”
    Yes providing that acceptable moral values are behind it.
    This is my 50 years in Australia Trish and since then many governments come and go and the dignity and respect for the welfare dependants have not improved of if improved was just by applying bad aids (and not to mention in the case of the Aborigines)
    A disgrace and a sign to not be very optimistic.

  26. Trish Corry

    Yes I’ll be sending some letters off on the weekend. I can only do my bit like anyone. Hopefully someone might listen. I’ve worked, researched (academic and personal research) and watched this space for over 20 years. Enough is enough.

  27. Freetasman

    Trish, correct me if I am wrong (English is my second language) but I have the impression that you have taken my comments personal and perhaps interpreting them as negative/destructive.
    I am not and I admire your dedication for good causes knowing that the road will be full of barriers and “pot holes”
    I made the comments because I like to make people aware of the past and remember them not necessary bog us on it but help to not make the same mistakes again or using that past as a “bar to be raised”
    I hope that I have expressed myself clear and not offending.

  28. Trish Corry

    Your comments were very clear and on point. Nothing offensive. I agree with much of what you are saying. From my perspective context is important. The reasons for Choices. The economy or culture of the day. I was just making a point 1987 to 2017 have not been the same from then until now.

  29. nurses1968

    With Uber and Airbnb so big a hit the unemployed could be funneled off to start their own initiatives in a whole range of areas like in home aged care, child care, money lending etc.
    With no concerns about adhering to Award wages, OH&S, Superannuation the possibilities are endless

  30. king1394

    I actually made it to an interview once for a position at a Job Agency. Encouraged by the questioners, I outlined my views about supportiveness and understanding and made it clear that I believed some people might need quite a bit of leeway to find their way into a suitable job. I was told I didn’t have the right attitude to fit with the philosophy of the company.

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