ACOSS calls for fundamental reform of employment services on release of expert review of jobactive

14 December 2018

The Future Employment Services report, released today, recommends major reforms to the jobactive system, which currently burdens people with unnecessary, ineffective compliance and ignores realities of the job market.

‘’The Report follows nine months of thorough and unprecedented consultation, including with the users of jobactive services: unemployed people and employers. At a time when policy is often developed and announced in a haphazard way, the employment services review serves as a template for policy responses to complex problems,’’ ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

“We welcome the public release of the report today and the Minister’s commitment for targeted consultations before the new employment services system is announced next year.

‘’jobactive needs fundamental reform to improve the employment prospects of the half a million people struggling on Newstart and Youth Allowance for more than 12 months (two thirds of all recipients of those payments).

‘’jobactive currently operates more as a social security penalty system than an employment service system. Yet with one job vacancy for every eight unemployed and underemployed people, few unemployed people can walk into a job tomorrow. They need help, not threats and humiliation.

“Australia has a toxic combination of policies targeted at people who are unemployed, which isn’t working for anyone. We now have the lowest unemployment payment in the OECD at just $40 a day, the toughest social security compliance system in the OECD except the UK, and less than half the OECD average being spent on employment services to help people get a job. The case for reform is urgent,” Dr Goldie said.

Dr Peter Davidson, ACOSS Senior Adviser said: ‘’In our own survey of people using jobactive, they told us they felt bullied, that parents with young children were referred to jobs with night shifts, and people in country areas with few jobs were made to apply for 20 jobs a month. Only a minority received good job referrals or the help they needed (such as training, career counselling and wage subsidies) to improve their job prospects. The impact of the treatment of people is having a severe effect on their mental health.

‘’Service providers are under-resourced, made to enforce punitive and unreasonable social security rules, pressured to achieve short-term job outcomes that will make people less employable long term, and denied the stability of funding required to invest in quality services. On average, front-line staff are assisting 150 people at any one time and 40% of jobactive consultants leave each year.

“The report’s proposals hold real promise, but some present major risks that will need to be addressed, including the serious digital divide that exists for people on low incomes who are being expected to rely on online services,” said Dr Davidson.

“This is an opportunity for the government to reset the tone and content of its response to unemployment, from the vilification of unemployed people of recent years towards constructive, practical engagement to improve their employment prospects in a tough jobs market,” Dr Goldie said

The Future Employment Services Report’s proposals

The report’s proposals include:

  • Shifting resources to people who are more disadvantaged by offering a ‘digital service’ to people with fewer barriers to employment;
  • More flexible activity requirements, including alternatives to the standard requirement to apply for 20 jobs a month;
  • A new service model emphasising partnerships with employers and other community services in regions with high unemployment;
  • Changes to the purchasing model to provide more certainty and up-front funding for providers, subject to performance;
  • A greater emphasis on service quality, including through suitably-qualified staff, though the Report stops short of mandating this.

ACOSS proposals for reform of employment services

ACOSS calls on the government to take the bold steps required to reduce prolonged unemployment:

  • Commit to full employment, and targeted reductions in long-term unemployment.
  • Increase the single rate of Newstart and other allowances by a minimum of $75 per week.
  • Loosen the python-grip of rigid and unproductive job search and reporting requirements and focus on helping people to secure paid work rather than ineffective compliance.
  • Abolish Work for the Dole, Cashless Debit Cards, and other wasteful policies that humiliate people locked out of paid work and get in the way of people’s efforts to find it.
  • Replace these wasteful and damaging policies and the Youth Jobs Path scheme with a scheme providing appropriately-paid work experience and training in regular jobs.
  • Any online employment services platform should be developed only on condition that the risk of digital exclusion is comprehensively addressed, and designed in full consultation with a reference group including service users, based on agreed principles that include accessibility, privacy protections, and the use of artificial intelligence to strengthen human agency and decision-making not to substitute for it.
  • Restore the role of Centrelink in ensuring compliance with job search requirements, and give it a new role as the default employment service provider for people with fewer barriers to paid work who are using a digital employment services platform.
  • Establish an independent quality assurance agency for employment services, as we now have for many other services including NDIS and aged care, and require front-line staff to hold suitable qualifications.
  • Reduce by half the gap between Australian spending on employment assistance and the OECD level (an extra $500 million) so that providers have the resources they need each year to offer real help to people unemployed long-term.
  • Establish a career counselling service for new entrants to the paid workforce, parents and carers returning to it, and older workers who need to refresh their skills.
  • Support local partnerships among employment services, employers, training organisations, and community and health services, to assist the minority of unemployed people facing entrenched labour market disadvantage (including those living in regions with very high unemployment).

Our submission to the Expert Panel is at:

Our survey of the experiences of unemployed people with jobactive is at: