The Federal Government’s Employment White Paper misses the mark because it locks in poverty – one of the greatest barriers to people finding work.
“The White Paper leaves behind Australians because it leaves people on JobSeeker struggling below the poverty line and in perpetual crisis,” Economic Justice Australia Acting CEO Kate Allingham said.
“If you can’t pay rent or buy food and medicine, it’s very difficult to apply for jobs and get to an interview.
“The White Paper at least acknowledges that the social security system can create barriers to work and that activities forced on people receiving income support can harm rather than help their search for work. And it does contain a few bright spots including better access to concession cards.
“But the White Paper does not provide a path to employment for the people in the real-life case studies* we provided to the government as it prepared this report. We presented the stories of Bruce, Roy, Anne and John to illustrate different ways the social security system traps people in unemployment and poverty.
“The White Paper won’t help these people, so in our view it’s a missed opportunity to restore the social security safety net and create an economy where everyone who wants a job can find one.
“We now urge the government to use its response to the Robodebt Royal Commission to repair the social security system, because the one we have now is broken. The government needs to remove the barriers to work in the social security system and shift its focus from compliance and penalties.
“Receiving Centrelink payments is no walk in the park – people physically and mentally able to work desperately want to get back into a job and should be provided every opportunity to do so. People too unwell to work should be supported, not penalised.”
*Case studies Economic Justice Australia provided to the government as it prepared the Employment White Paper.
Bruce is in his early 60s and has been struggling to live with diabetes on JobSeeker for more a year. He regularly splits his diabetes tablets in half to make them last longer, as he can’t afford to buy them every few weeks. His doctor tells him he has to take the full dose or he risks having serious complications, but Bruce is afraid that if he spends that much money he won’t have enough left over to buy his weekly groceries. He knows he should listen to his doctor but doesn’t see the point in taking medication if he’s not going to have anything to eat. His struggle to afford food and medicine means he has little ability to look for work.
Roy is in his mid-50s and has not had a full-time job in three years due to a back injury from decades working as a labourer. His JobSeeker payments were not enough for him to rent a room in Sydney, so Roy moved to the South Coast of NSW where he currently lives in a tent within a caravan park – all he can afford after other necessary expenses. Roy continues to look for work, but there are not many jobs in the area and his options are limited due to his back condition.
Anne’s JobSeeker payment was automatically suspended because she was sick and unable to attend an appointment with her employment service provider. She contacted the provider immediately, but they refused to lift the suspension or accept her medical certificate for non-attendance. Anne desperately needed to have her suspension lifted as it was the end of the pay fortnight and she had no money for food or other essentials, so she decided to travel to the job agency office to sort it out. However, Anne’s budget was so tight that she did not have any money to top up her Opal card. Anne was desperate and she decided to catch the train anyway. She was caught at Liverpool station and fined over $400.
Upon arrival at the provider, they initially refused to see Anne and told her to come back the next day. Anne knew that if she left, she risked getting another fine and she wouldn’t be able to buy any food until her payments were reinstated. Ann contacted a member centre in New South Wales and a lawyer was able to organize another appointment that afternoon and the suspension was lifted. However, the money did not clear in time to add credit to her Opal card and she received a further $200 fine on the way home. Anne now has a debt of over $600, with no savings to draw from. Ann says she’ll have to cut back from two meals a day to just one meal a day for the next few months in order to pay it off.
A member centre in Victoria assisted John, a 58-year-old man with chronic renal failure, back pain, anxiety and depression, and osteoarthritis. John applied for the Disability Support Pension (DSP) and was notified six months later that his application was unsuccessful, and that to qualify for DSP he would need to participate in a program of support for 18 months. He immediately applied for a review of the decision, as he had medical evidence that he was unable to work.
While waiting for the review, John was required to participate in the program with an employment service provider, who referred John for a part-time job that involved manual labour, including moving heavy objects and physical exertion. John attempted the job and collapsed at work. He was hospitalised for two weeks with chronic renal failure. More than 18 months from first applying for DSP, John was notified that his request for review of the decision to refuse him DSP had been unsuccessful, partly due to his medical evidence no longer reflecting his current and worse state of health.
Unable to meet the criteria for the program of support and with his application rejected, John continues to live on JobSeeker and has been forced to take early release of his superannuation to meet the cost of his regular medication and costs associated with treatment. He is behind on his mortgage payments and has no employment prospects due to his medical conditions.
Read our submission here.