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Relocation Assistance Welcome But New Penalties Would Create Hardship

11 August 2010

ACOSS has welcomed the ALP's announcement today to help disadvantaged workers re-engage with the workforce through relocation incentives, but is concerned that stricter compliance measures will needlessly force jobseekers into hardship and disadvantage.

"More than 300,000 Australians have been on unemployment payments for over 12 months, for reasons such as low skills, few local jobs, age discrimination and disability," said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service.

"Employment services receive an average of just $500 per person to assist long-term unemployed people train and overcome other barriers to work. More must be done to ensure that they too share in the economic recovery.

"ACOSS welcomes the trial program to assist disadvantaged jobseekers with the costs of moving to a secure job, but opposes the proposal to cut them off payments for 12 weeks if the job falls through.

"We have called for and support a voluntary relocation scheme to help jobless people in areas with high unemployment move to areas with better job opportunities.

"Disadvantaged jobseekers are taking a risk in moving away from family and other supports, usually to a place where housing costs are much higher, so assistance for the move, accommodation and other supports at the new address are essential.

"To penalise people with a loss of payments for 12 weeks if they then return home is harsh and counterproductive. It will discourage people from taking up a relocation offer.

"Without any income, people could be left stranded with no means to return home and no money to pay for rent or groceries. It could mean people fall behind in rent and are made homeless, or take on more debts."

The Government also announced breaching penalties that would see payments for jobseekers withheld for failure to attend first and second appointments with Centrelink or Job Services Australia.

"Suspending someone's payment until they comply with benefit requirements is a tough enough, and not restoring the payment even when they do so is too harsh. The goal should be to keep unemployed people engaged with the system, not to punish them afterwards," said Dr Goldie.

"The best way to ensure unemployed people participate in the system is through better employment services that have resources to meet with jobseekers regularly.

"ACOSS advocates a paid work experience scheme which would equip job seekers with on-the-job work skills.

"The proposal that parents on income support would miss out on family payments if they don't bring their children to health checks is discriminatory.

"If all children need health checks, then all parents on family tax benefits should be required to bring their children to them, not only those on income support.

"There is no evidence to suggest the majority of parents on income support are not good or diligent parents, so to target them and not other parents for this requirement is unfair and inconsistent.

Currently, most unemployed people must:

  • Look for up to 10 jobs a fortnight
  • Report fortnightly to Centrelink
  • Meet regularly with their employment service provider
  • Stick with their agreed activities (eg training, job search)
  • Accept job offers including unskilled jobs

Otherwise they risk losing the allowance for up to 8 weeks. Young people on the Youth Allowance must either be employed or enrolled in training to improve their qualifications ('earn or learn').

Media contact
Clare Cameron | ACOSS | 0419 626 155