Work for the Dole – A Myopic Policy Failure?

It is a tragedy that Work for the Dole has become the centerpiece of the Australian Government’s employment policy.

It is a tragedy that Work for the Dole has become the centerpiece of the Australian Government’s employment policy. The program flies in the face of decades of accumulated evidence about what constitutes effective labour market programs and the necessity that they be accompanied by a jobs generation strategy. At a time when we urgently need a sophisticated and effective national employment strategy, the Abbott Government is expanding a proven policy failure – Work for the Dole. As it does so, it is also cutting funding for vocational training in South Australia by around 23 percent over the next three years. Work for the Dole parks participants in workplaces without guaranteed access to a suite of education, training and personal support services. It is a poor substitute for engagement in well-resourced labour market programs linked to industry development projects. With no career pathway in sight, engagement in Work for the Dole can prove to be soul destroying for participants, adding to the already heavy emotional burden of being unemployed. Perversely, Work for the Dole entrenches a class of low-paid workers in government and cash strapped NGOs where most placements will be based. This has the potential to create corrosive conflict in workplaces where Work for the Dole placements are used to replace paid employees and fill holes in service delivery created by budget cuts. Work for the Dole is set to expand enormously as a consequence of the Federal Budget. Under the new Work for the Dole regime, young people aged between 18 and 30 are required to spend 25 hours per week in a workplace to secure their income support. Incredibly, you must now lodge up to 40 job applications per month or risk losing some or all of your income support. From January 2015 you will have to wait six months before you can apply for Youth Allowance or Newstart. Yes, you have to live without any income support! This is brutal, particularly when net job growth threatens to stall and youth unemployment remains chronically high in many parts of South Australia. There are simply not enough jobs available for qualified young people let alone those without qualifications. Work for the Dole is no solution for those experiencing multiple disadvantage, homelessness, abuse or drug dependency. It is astoundingly harsh to make young unemployed people wait six months to receive income support. The consequences of this will be horrendous. Denying thousands of young people access to financial support will inevitably lead to rising homelessness and desperate financial hardship. It will place additional pressure on poor families and households experiencing intergenerational unemployment. Those young people in private rental accommodation will bear the brunt of the draconian measures first. Many will be forced into homelessness and others into unsafe and over-crowded homes. Where financial hardship prevails, a rise in theft can be expected to follow. In South Australia alone, there are around 32,000 people receiving Newstart or Youth Allowance. Many of these people are vulnerable to greater hardship as they face the harsh measures now being imposed on them. All of this at a time when South Australia is facing a jobs crisis generated by the collapse of manufacturing employment over the last decade and the closure of the automotive industry. Policymakers in Australia should never have seriously considered Work for the Dole as a solution. Self-respecting nations should not blame their citizens for circumstances they have no control over. A compassionate society should not stigmatise those who are unemployed by consigning them to a program that is punitive, demeaning and ineffective. As a measure of our compassion as a society, Work for the Dole is an abject failure, a monument to mean-spirited and misguided policy. At a more fundamental level, Work for the Dole is emblematic of a radical neo-conservative policy program that seeks to dismantle the Australian post war social settlement that many see as the essence of the fair go. The fair go embodies universal access to healthcare, education and housing, regardless of your income. It means striving for full employment, decent and equitable incomes. It recognises that those who are unemployed are commonly so because of economic circumstances outside their control. Work for the Dole reinforces a view diametrically opposed to this – that those who are unemployed must bear much of the responsibility for the circumstances they find themselves in. The unemployed, rather than unemployment, are the central focus of this myopic policy. Work for the Dole is the antithesis of the fair go. It needs to be cast aside and replaced by a sophisticated, compassionate and effective response to unemployment in the 21st century. A national jobs and industry development summit is needed to kick this along. @JohnSpoehr

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