COVID-19 unemployment report shows why we must fix our approach to helping people locked out of paid work

With the Grattan Institute report confirming today that people on low incomes, younger people and women are more likely to lose their jobs in the current economic crisis, the Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the government to fix our approach to supporting people back into jobs, for good, so that no one is left behind as we recover and rebuild.

The report – Shutdown: estimating the COVID-19 employment shock – finds:

• Between 14 and 26 per cent of the Australian workforce could lose their jobs
• Australia’s unemployment rate will rise to between 10 and 15 per cent
• Lower-income workers are twice as likely to be out of paid work as high-income earners.
• Younger people and women are also likely to be impacted by job losses.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“While no one is immune to this crisis, it’s clear that people on low incomes, younger people and women are bearing the brunt of job losses. We’ve welcomed the JobKeeper payment and the increase to JobSeeker (Newstart) and Youth Allowance to help people get through the immediate crisis. These payments will help to avoid a widespread, dramatic increase in our already unacceptable poverty levels.

“We now need the Government to focus on planning for the rebuild beyond the next six months.

“We must learn from lessons of the past. We know from past experience that when someone is unemployed for over a year, their chances of securing paid work typically fall by 40%. We need a strong commitment from government to invest in job-generating infrastructure and services, and from employers to give people a fair chance of a job regardless of how long they’ve been unemployed, how old they are, and whether they have a disability.

“Instead of throwing up barriers to income support like denying payments to people with a small amount of savings, or imposing Work for the Dole and unrealistic job search requirements; the government should meet its own obligations to secure employment for people.

“We can never go back to the low rate of the old Newstart payment of just $40 a day or the punitive approaches that punished and demonised people locked out of paid work. We need to raise the rate for good so those without paid work can cover the basics – food, housing, electricity – and they can make the most of job opportunities as the economy rebuilds.

“The government should plan now an expansion in infrastructure investment, such as social housing and improvements in the energy efficiency of homes, to restore growth in employment as the lock-downs are eased. We need to fix our employment services system to create pathways to jobs for people who are unemployed long-term and those at greatest risk, including people leaving education without Year 12 qualifications, older people, people with disability and people with caring responsibilities.

“We’re calling on the Government to work with people who are locked out of paid work, the community services sector, business and unions to take a fundamentally new approach to helping people into employment, fixing our social security safety net and employment, education and training systems. We need to invest in collaboration at the local level between employers and those looking for jobs, giving priority to job creation, and adequate supports so that people can cover the basics at all times, allowing them to make the most of job opportunities as the economy rebuilds,” Dr Goldie said.