Focus on jobs not penalising people: ACOSS

28 May 2014

The Australian Council of Social Service has called on the Federal Government to focus on improving job opportunities for young people and strengthen training and education available instead of penalising them at the very time they need support and hope.

“It makes no sense that the government has decided to spend new and precious dollars on restarting the failed work-for-the-dole yet cut programmes that clearly work, flying in the face of all evidence,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

“The problem in high unemployment areas around the country is the lack of jobs, not inertia on behalf of people who are looking for paid work.

‘‘Past experience shows that work-for-the-dole programs are not effective in helping young people get jobs. Under the previous Coalition government’s scheme, only about one in three participants were still employed three months after the program.

“We know that the main reason for high youth unemployment is that young people were worst affected by the global financial crisis. The overall number of jobs for 16 to 19-year-olds was still below 2007 levels five years later. Employers want ‘experience’ but how can young people gain experience if they can’t get entry-level positions?

“The focus should be on opening up job opportunities for our young people, and this should be done in collaboration with business leaders, investors, local communities and social services to give young people hope, and help them get a foot in the door.

A more effective way to address youth and long term unemployment would be to address skills and capability related barriers to work. A first step would be to increase the availability of places in cost-effective wage subsidy programs (such as Wage Connect), and Youth Connections, providing a subsidy roughly equivalent to the Newstart Allowance to a real employer, and mentoring and sustained supports. This gives young people with work experience they desperately want.

“Instead the government has decided to withdraw support from young people for six months of the year and make it harder for them to put themselves in a position to get paid work.

“Young people are already subject to tough requirements to get assistance – people under 22 years who leave school early are already required to complete school or train, or they lose income support. Those over 21 are required to search for 10 jobs a fortnight and prove it to Centrelink or they risk a loss of payments for eight weeks.

“The Budget has also cut funding to important career counselling and vocational programs such as Youth Connections, which has assisted over 74,000 young people since 2010. Ninety-three per cent of participants in this program were still engaged in study or paid work six months after completing the program in 2012 with most no longer receiving Centrelink payments.

“Similarly, 47% of people out of work for over two years assisted by the Wage Connect wage subsidy scheme retained their positions after the program ended, which is more than double the results achieved under the work for the dole scheme.

“The government has announced that it will pay subsidies of up to $10,000 over two years to employers who hire mature workers over the age of 50. With the rate of unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds more than double the overall rate (12.5%), this initiative should be extended to people locked out, including our young people.

“Young people want to work and participate in society. Now is the time to invest in their futures, not put further barriers in their way,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

See ACOSS Opinion: Removal of income support for young people risks creating a lost generation – by Cassandra Goldie, 21 May 2014