The Australian Council of Social Service has called for urgent Government action to improve income and employment supports to tackle growing unemployment.
In response to the latest unemployment figures showing the number of people on the unemployment benefit and Youth Allowance is at a 15 year high, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said the news highlights the pressing need for action on two fronts: to strengthen the social safety net and to help people get into paid work.
“The latest figures show that the number of people on Newstart Allowance increased 6.4 per cent in the past year from 682 873 to 726 740 and the number on Youth Allowance increased by 7.7 per cent last year from 107 103 to 115 310. The unemployment rate is back up to six per cent and projected to stay there for another year.
“One of the significant reasons for the increase in Newstart numbers is the previous Government’s decision to move single parents onto the payment in January 2013. That decision has had a devastating impact on the lives of a great many single parents and their children, taking about $100 from their weekly income.
“We are also extremely concerned by the levels of youth joblessness, which has reached more than 20 per cent in some parts of the country. The average youth unemployment rate in Australia is double the general unemployment rate of 6 per cent, with 12.2 per cent of 15-24 year olds looking for work.
“We need to ensure that forthcoming government decisions stemming from the Commission of Audit and the next Federal Budget will include measures to reverse the unemployment trend. Future decisions must be based on the principles of sustainability and fairness, not compound the struggle of people who are already doing it tough.
“Two thirds of people on Newstart Allowance have been on income support for over a year. That makes it much harder for them to find a job without work experience and training. Job Services Australia providers are laying off their own workers because they get less to assist a growing population of long term unemployed people. They are only funded to interview long term unemployed people every two months and invest $500 in training. That won’t get people into jobs and prolonged unemployment is becoming entrenched.
“Also the Youth Connections program which offers career counselling and support to young early school leavers runs out of funds this year. If it isn’t renewed, then more young people will fall through the cracks.
“We need a national plan for jobs that has investment in people at its heart. This means targeted investment in employment assistance for people unemployed long term, including career counselling for young unemployed people and sole parents returning to paid employment, and expanded wage subsidies for long term unemployed people to give them experience in a regular job.
“We have to focus on evidence based strategies that we know work. Impoverishing people doesn’t create jobs or help people into work.
“The Prime Minister said, in announcing the farmers package, that “we will stand by people in need”. This must extend to the growing number of people left to makes ends meet on the $36 a day Newstart payment. It’s time to increase the payment and expand positive measures that will improve people’s chances of getting paid work as part of a wider jobs and inclusion plan for our nation,” Dr Goldie said.
Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155