Community sector calls urgent national meeting as budget concerns about ‘welfare reform’ grow

Leading community service and consumer groups – including Australia’s major charities, disability organisations, representatives of single parents, and people who long term unemployed – will meet at short notice in Canberra today amid growing concerns over budget speculation about ‘welfare reform’ proposals. The group will meet to urge the Government to take a positive, and effective approach to helping more people find paid work, amid speculation of harsh and punitive changes to income support payments in the upcoming Budget.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said “As a sector, we have been increasingly alarmed about the tone of the current debate and speculation about so called ‘welfare reform’ measures in the Budget. We are concerned that the participation agenda to help more people into paid work risks being reduced to a contest over who can be ‘tougher’ on some of our most vulnerable members of the community, rather than about what is likely to work.

“We are also disappointed that policy initiatives may be developed in the confidential context of the budget process, rather than through open and inclusive processes, to ensure that policies are going to be effective.

“With labour shortages looming, we agree with the Prime Minister that we have a rare opportunity to help more people into secure paid employment, and off income support. In this goal, we are firm allies. However, it will be a mistake if the Government assumes that this will be achieved by imposing unrealistic ‘activity requirements’ or harsher penalties for people on social security.

“The two million people of working age on social security payments are rightly worried about what the budget will bring and tired of the stereotyping and blaming. They want practical help to secure employment and a decent income if they are unable to do so.

“Groups working directly with people not in paid work have been saying that people need more support, not more threats. People looking for paid work need adequate investment in case management, skills and training, a paid work experience program, and incentives for employers to take people on. We also need to address the ongoing discrimination and reluctance of some employers to give people a fair go.

“Importantly, income support levels for people unemployed must be increased to above the poverty line. At just $34 per day, the Newstart Allowance has been reducing in real value over the last 15 years. Financial crisis and homelessness are not the foundations for getting back to paid work. A more adequate income support payment would also encourage more people on the higher DSP to take the risk of looking for paid work, as recommended by the Henry Review Panel, and the OECD. A minimum increase of $50 per week is urgently needed.

“There is no quick fix here. For the Government’s participation agenda to work, it will require greater investment, not cost cutting, if job services providers are to properly assess the needs of long-term unemployed people. Currently providers are only funded to interview a person once every two months and receive just $500 to help a person to be ready for paid work, once they are long term unemployed. Employers also have a responsibility to do their bit, in partnership with government, to provide more support and advice to employ people with disabilities, Indigenous people, mature aged people, and others who have been locked out of the jobs market.

“Formulating the Budget is never easy, and the decisions will directly impact on people’s lives. That’s why we are urging the Government to approach this task with determination and courage – determination to ensure that those people in our community who are the most vulnerable are protected and supported – and courage to find the savings where there is real waste – such as tax breaks for those on some of the highest incomes in the country. Dr Goldie said.

Present and available for interview:
Dr Cassandra Goldie – CEO, Australian Council of Social Service
Dr John Falzon – CEO, St Vincent de Paul National Council
David Thompson – CEO, Jobs Australia
Maree O’Halloran – President, National Welfare Rights Networks
Michael Bleasedale – Co-Executive Director, People With Disability Australia
Sam Page – CEO, Family Relationship Services Australia
Leah Hobson representing Lesley Hall – CEO, Australian Federation of Disability Services
Susan Helyar representing Lin Hatfield Dodds – National Director, UnitingCare Australia
Therese Edwards – CEO, National Council for Single Mothers and Their Children
Kasy Chambers – Executive Director, Anglicare Australia
Paul O’Callaghan – CEO, Catholic Social Services
Rebecca Vassarotti – Executive Director, YWCA Canberra
Ian Yates – CEO, Council on the Ageing (not attending meeting but available for interview)

Media contact
Cassandra Goldie
ACOSS – 0419 626 155