More grief for the unemployed

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If you thought the recent budget was hard on the unemployed, the government has come up with more draconian requirements for people looking for work, beginning in July next year. Young job seekers will be required to apply for 40 jobs a month and perform 25 hours of community service.

People under 30 will be unable to access welfare payments for six months after applying for benefits and must work 25 hours a week for six months each year. If you are aged between 30 and 49, you will be required to work 15 hours a week for six months a year. If you are aged between 50 and 60, you will need to work 15 hours a week at an approved activity such as training.

Newstart payments are just $255.25 a week, but young people will be denied any payments for the first six months after applying, and will then be paid at the lower Youth Allowance rate of $207.20 a week until they turn 30.

Currently, there are perhaps 740,000 Australians unemployed, with fewer than 150,000 vacancies. Business groups have reacted strongly against having to process a tidal wave of useless job applications. Peter Strong of the Council of Small Business of Australia said: “It’s an embarrassment for everybody, and it’s going to make people angry”.

The Abbott government seems intent on alienating more voters than ever with these harsh and unreasonable policies. How are unemployed people to live with such meagre financial support? The new measures will hit the poorest and most vulnerable groups very hard indeed. The welfare agencies are already warning that they will be swamped by people needing food, clothing, and housing.

It is well known from previous experience that work for the dole schemes do not work. In the view of former Liberal Party leader, John Hewson, the new measures are more about prejudice and ideology than about good policy.

Professor Jeff Borland and Yi-Ping Tseng from Melbourne University in 2004 analysed the results of the work for the dole schemes under John Howard, and found they were ‘least effective’ and even counter-productive. Their results were confirmed by similar studies overseas.

According to Peter Davidson, senior adviser at the Australian Council of Social Services, wage subsidies and vocational training are much more effective. So why is the government pursuing work for the dole, asked Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper of 2 August? “Because sometimes in politics ideology trumps reason and experience, and out-of-work voters are mere collateral damage.”

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