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Invest in case management for long-term unemployed, not ‘wasteful’ income quarantining: ACOSS

10 March 2011

The peak body for the community welfare sector today welcomed Opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey's call for closer case management to better support long-term unemployed people into work, but strongly opposes any further extension of the costly and unproven policy of compulsory income quarantining.

"Mr Hockey is correct to identity greater case management of people that have been unemployed for a long time as essential to better equip and help them into paid work. However he should now go the next step and offer bi-partisan support for greater investment in this crucial area," said ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"ACOSS has consistently advocated policies to improve employment assistance and incentives for people on income support. The main problem is not lack of incentive, but lack of work capacity or employer acceptance.

"We know that one in eight people on Newstart have some sort of disability; around 60% of people long-term unemployed have less than Year 12 education; and around one in three people are considered 'mature age' (45+). So it follows that the best solution is investment in employment counselling, rehabilitation and training to boost work capacity, and policies to encourage employers to take unemployed people on, including paid work experience.

"We don't believe compulsorily quarantining people's welfare payments is the answer. In fact this is the most wasteful thing the Government could do. We know from the experience in the Northern Territory that it costs about $4,400 per person on income management with no proven better outcomes.

"The only so-called evidence comes from people who had their incomes quarantined along with extensive case management, counselling, and other support structures. Despite persistent political claims, there is no verifiable evidence that compulsory quarantining of payments in itself makes any difference.

"This is why ACOSS insists that this money would be better spent on more targeted one-to-one attention of an individual's needs. In contrast to the huge amount spent on income quarantining, employment services providers only receive $500 to train and work with a long-term unemployed person, and are only required to see them once every 2 months. This is clearly insufficient.

"Now that there appears to be political consensus on the importance of case management, we look forward to seeing the major political parties working together to ensure the necessary investment follows in the interest of unemployed people," Dr Goldie said.

Media contact: Fernando de Freitas - 0419 626 155