New survey finds jobactive leads unemployed people to anxiety, not jobs

2 October 2018

ACOSS released today the report of a new survey of 311 people who participated in jobactive employment services around the country. The online survey was conducted to inform policy on the replacement program for jobactive, which ends in July 2020.

‘’It is absolutely vital that policy makers put people at the centre of policy design. We must listen to experiences of people using jobactive services and design an employment services system that responds to the needs they identify,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said today.

‘’Responses to our survey poured in, with 311 replies from jobactive users in two weeks. Their message was loud and clear: jobactive is leading to anxiety rather than jobs. Over and over people told us that jobactive operated as a benefit compliance system rather than an employment service.

“Fundamental change is needed in employment services. Tinkering at the edges is not enough. Employment services must focus more on help and less on compliance, and governments must lift their investment in them. We are falling behind international standards, with our investment in employment services being well below half the average level in OECD countries.”

The survey informed ACOSS’s proposals for reform of a flawed employment services system, including:

  • A government commitment to full employment, with unemployment well below the RBA ‘’target’’ of 5%.
  • Less stringent, more flexible activity requirements, including a reduction in the requirement to search for 20 jobs in regions with few jobs available, and abolition of Work for the Dole.
  • Centrelink, not employment service providers, should decide on ‘’demerit points’’ and payment penalties regarding activity requirements.
  • A rigorous set of service quality standards (including staff qualifications), with an independent statutory body to monitor them and hear complaints (as in the NDIS).
  • An online self-help service in lieu of compulsory interviews for people able to find jobs without assistance, backed up by new employment advisors at Centrelink.
  • More investment by government and employment service providers in help that works for people unemployed long-term, including wage subsidies and training.
  • People should be able to make an informed choice of employment services provider and have a say over the timing of appointments and the contents of their Employment Plan.
  • More funding certainty for providers when they are effective in finding people jobs; to reduce the high turnover of providers and staff, and enable them to make long-term plans to work with local services and employers to help people with major barriers to employment.

What ACOSS online survey respondents said about jobactive

These are some of the most common responses to our survey from people using jobactive:

People were overwhelmingly dissatisfied (73%) with jobactive service, with 8% satisfied.

Regular interviews with providers were widely perceived to be quick ‘tick a box’ exercises to meet bureaucratic requirements and check on their job search activities

‘Appointment was lucky if it went for 10 mins. Ticked attendance box, made next appointment. Single female 50 years +, VIC

In regard to other services received, 19% reported a job referral, 23% a referral for training, 14% received help with the costs of training or job search, 11% received a job placement with a wage subsidy, and 11% were referred to health or community services.[1] Given that a majority of respondents were unemployed long-term, this indicates the services were seriously ‘under-powered’ for people disadvantaged in the labour market.

People overwhelmingly gave high priority to being able to change their provider (94%) and having a say over their employment plan (90%). However, only 33% chose their last provider

‘I had a call from Centrelink they gave me a choice of two. I said I’ve never heard from either of them, give me more information or let me Google. They said choose one or don’t get paid.’ 25-49, single with children

‘I just get told what to do and threatened with cancelling of payments if I don’t do it!’ Female, 25-49, single with children, VIC

People’s experiences with employment consultants varied widely. Only 11% considered their (latest) employment consultant to be well-skilled for the job, while 65% did not. When asked what qualities consultants should have there were three main responses: empathy (or personal experience of unemployment), relevant professional qualifications, and knowledge of and connections with the local labour market.

‘Disrespectful in that he has never asked me what my profession was, what are my skills and qualifications all he said to me was once you are over 40 you will never get a job.’ Single female, 50+, Queensland

‘All the people I have dealt with have been very reasonable. Single male 25-49 years, Queensland

Respondents acknowledged the constraints that consultants worked under, especially high caseloads (averaging 150) and an over-emphasis on benefit compliance.

‘They seem to be stretched so thin, I’m sure that individually they’re fine at their jobs but due to the sheer volume of people they need to deal with, you’d never know.’ Female, <25, single with no children, Victoria


Most respondents with caring roles (59%) reported that providers failed to take adequate account of this (only 9% said they did). Examples included appointments at inappropriate times (e.g. school holidays), and referrals to jobs that were too far away or involved night shifts, where people had young children.

‘The only work offered was a 4am start 15kms from my home, I had a 11yr old son, and do not drive. Female sole parent, 50+, SA

A majority (51%) said the compulsory requirements in their employment plan were not suited to their circumstances.

Many reported that the 20 jobs a month requirement was rigidly enforced, even in country regions where there were few jobs, or they were caring for a family member with a serious illness. People in regions with few jobs had to apply repeatedly to the same employers.

‘Provider stopped my payments after my husband was in hospital having surgery. They did so because I could not submit 20 job applications. Female 50 years+, couple no children

Work for the Dole was widely regarded as a waste of time since the ‘work’ had little or no connection with paid employment or employment-related skills.

‘The only thing you are qualified for after Work for the Dole is Work for the Dole.’  Male 50 years+ NSW.

Fear of loss of benefits was a recurring theme, with some reporting suicidal thoughts.

‘When you have nothing, having a person constantly threaten to take the last little thing you have away from you is hell. I have come close to killing myself on several occasions when I have had payments stopped.’ Male, 25-49, single with no children, SA

The main services appreciated by respondents were practical supports such as computers, convenient locations, private interview rooms (if available), and help with incidental expenses (e.g. transport and short training courses). People appreciated referrals to suitable training courses and wage subsidies (though these were not widely available)
The main things respondents wanted changed included a less punitive approach to benefit compliance, better recognition of special needs (including illness and disability or caring roles), more personalised service and interviews, and more help with training and job referrals. A common concern was that providers were motivated by profits rather than improving people’s lives.

‘The system needs to be less punitive and more helpful.’ Female, 25-49, single with children, VIC


[1] Not mutually exclusive.