Vulnerable Jobseekers need strong leadership. A shift away from a budget-savings model to a compassionate, supportive jobseeker-focused model is needed. The diverse needs of jobseekers, particularly vulnerable jobseekers, are ignored within the jobsearch framework and welfare reforms. Vulnerable Jobseekers are becoming increasingly invisible.
Think of the word ‘Jobseeker’ and close your eyes. Who do you see?
The jobsearch and welfare framework ignores the diversity of people seeking employment. The shifts in the jobsearch framework over time have sought to encompass more and more welfare recipients. This is a concern because it neutralises the personal circumstances of the individual. The label ‘jobseeker’ will apply to almost all jobless individuals under the current Welfare Reform Bill.
Vulnerable people in dire circumstances and highly experienced former workers are viewed through the lens of sameness and homogeneity.
The term jobseeker is an active term – one who seeks a job. This also disguises the involuntary nature of the act of job seeking for many. Cases of terminally ill individuals forced to seek work have been brought to light over recent years.
The shifts in policy over time, also place a cloak of silence over the most vulnerable in society. Explicit in the current welfare reform bill, and implicit in the language of Government is that the vulnerable people will no longer have ‘excuses’ for not meeting job search requirements.
In other words, legitimate behaviour displayed in the face of complex life circumstances will render vulnerable jobseekers and disabled jobseekers inexcusable. Their normal behavioural response to complex situations, intolerable and punishable by law.
The most vulnerable suffer the most in this type of punitive system.
The aim of Governments over time is to increase participation of disabled people in work. The Liberal-National Coalition and Labor Governments have supported shifting disability support pension (DSP) recipients off the DSP and transferring them to the lower paid Newstart.
The Welfare to Work reforms, under the Howard Government, is the most significant change-point in the jobsearch framework for disabled people. Reducing welfare debt, by decreasing the number of DSP Recipients, was the main economic driver of these reforms.
‘Disabled people should not be left behind’, has been the mantra of both the Coalition and Labor Governments.
There are some success stories for enabling vulnerable jobseekers into new work. However, people with an episodic mental illness can experience more distress and increased barriers in this system.
Many disabled recipients are now on the lower rate of Newstart. They do not qualify for the DSP. A review of the Welfare to Work changes indicated that among people with disabilities, 67 percent experienced no change, 29 percent were financially worse off and 3 per cent were better off. Income losses were up to $99 a week.
In addition, since 2006, the financial penalties for ‘non-compliance’ are more wide reaching and harsh.
This will only become more prevalent under the current Welfare Reform Bill. This is because reasonable behavioural responses to complex life problems are considered ‘unacceptable excuses’.
Financial stress is an identified barrier to employment and positive mental health. This is a serious concern because this group already live 20% under the poverty line.
Industry concern at the time of the pilot testing of the Welfare to Work Reforms for disabled participants was the shift to outcome-based payments for service providers.
In essence, a concern of a quick churn out culture. That is a lack of consideration for quality job matching or individual job seeker supports and a focus on placing vulnerable jobseekers in any job.
Some eleven years and five Prime Ministers later, after thousands have experienced disadvantaged, unfair expectations and punishment for non-compliance; the Reference Group for Welfare Reforms (McClure et. al) have highlighted quick throughput as an issue.
The Government recommendation in 2015 was to increase payments linked to outcomes. Seventy percent of funding is now linked to 26-week outcomes. A change from 40% previously. However, this is not particularly ideal.
The other change John Howard implemented was a shift from block funding to the outcome-based funding of employment services. Once again, five Prime Minister’s later, this approach has become increasingly accepted and embedded. I despair at the acceptance of this approach by both major parties, with little review or criticism.
Arguments for outcome-based funding models are usually from an economic-centric rationale focused on budget savings – rather than a client-centric rationale – focused on quality outcomes from the client’s perspective.
I would strongly argue that outcome-based funding is a serious contributor to the deteriorating support and cultural attitudes displayed towards jobseekers, as reported by organisations such as the Australian Unemployed Workers Union.
There is a plethora of personal recounts by vulnerable people in extremely dire circumstances. Involuntary jobsearch and financial penalties apply to this group.
Personal Recounts such as:
“I came close to committing suicide because of the way Max treated me” – A First Hand Account and
Centrelink and Job Agencies Discriminate Against the Sick
Are heartbreaking recounts where privately contracted employment agencies not only exacerbated mental health conditions but seemingly were the reason the mental health condition was introduced in the first place.
Personally, since the late 1990’s I have expressed concern about the shift in funding models. I have had a consistent concern since its inception that the personal financial breaching of jobsearch participants, impedes outcomes and punishes individuals unnecessarily.
I express serious concern that a higher percentage of 26-week outcome-based funding for employment agencies, is more likely to increase punitive measures on vulnerable participants. It is more likely to see vulnerable jobseekers with an episodic disability placed in the too hard basket and increased penalties applied, and less complex clients given more time and attention.
Most outcome-based employment services contracts have tiers of payment, where people who face more difficulty finding and sustaining work attract higher payments (Department of Employment 2015; Lu, 2014). Despite this, several studies found that the incentives to service the most difficult clients were insufficient: these clients had poorer outcomes, were underserved, or ‘parked’ (Business Council of Australia 2014; Koning and Heinrich 2013; National Audit Office 2015). At the other end of the spectrum, ‘cream skimming’, the practice of favouring easier to serve clients, was also evident (Davidson and Whiteford 2012). (Emma Tomkinson, 2016)
The jobsearch framework has evolved into an empty echo chamber. Complex life-situations of homeless people, women escaping domestic violence, individuals recovering from sexual trauma, the physically disabled, those with psychiatric disabilities, silent disabilities and homeless young people, for example, are all viewed as ‘excuses not to seek employment’.
There are many recipients now on Newstart who have undiagnosed mental health conditions. Also many with diagnosed mental health conditions in regional and rural areas cannot access the appropriate services and treatment. In turn, they are financially penalised for this lack of investment in support.
There are many individuals who are treated blatantly unfairly, financially punished and driven to the depths of despair, exacerbating mental health conditions and some committing suicide. This is absolutely unacceptable.
This is a very under-reported phenomenon in the mainstream media. These individuals receive little voice by way of organised protest. These vulnerable citizens receive little attention in the political space.
When a situation such as the Robo-Debt disaster occurs, there is a furore about mistreatment and unfair and harsh measures. However, largely, politics ignores the unfairness and punishment jobseekers experience.
Strong Leadership is urgent now, to completely review this system and develop in its place a jobseeker-centric model of employment support.
The Welfare Reform changes occurred in 2006 and further reiterations of Howard’s model have occurred over time. These reiterations are by both the Liberal-National Coalition and the Labor Governments.
Specialised support services have deteriorated, such as JPET. The Gillard Government moved to a one size fits all one-stop shop model. Also, smaller community-based organisations were less likely to win contracts. In their place, much larger ‘financially stable’ organisations won tenders. This saw the merger of many smaller community-based employment services and the demise of some. Lost under these changes were local knowledge and expertise and a community-centric focus.
The current shift by the Abbott-Turnbull Government imposes further difficulty on vulnerable jobseekers. This is through a higher compliance for employment services for 70% 26-week outcomes. Agencies will leave complex jobseekers behind and pursue the outcomes which fund them.
The shift to wielding a much bigger stick by focusing on ‘unreasonable excuses and compliance’ for vulnerable people and more punitive measures, is frankly, quite frightening. The shift to homogenise the diversity of jobseekers is a major concern, as to the future ramifications of this move.
A shift to a client-centric model focused on quality outcomes as self-reported by the client is now urgent and essential.
Strong leadership in this space is crucial and quite urgent. A shift towards a jobseeker-centric model requires an enormous shift in thinking by political parties.
It requires a shift from a budget savings approach. A shift from the underpinning thought that jobseekers do not want to work. The satisfaction of jobseekers and a focus on needs-based supports and outcomes is crucial. A shift towards recognising episodic illness and complex life situations.
Crucially, a shift away from forced participation. An objective underpinned by financial penalties for vulnerable people. Vulnerable jobseekers are in complex circumstances and are already living under the poverty line.
It is simply hypocrisy to participate in the CEO Sleep Out during Homelessness week and actively contribute to the harsh regime that contributes to it.
The Government frames jobseekers as potential employees. However, the bullying, intimidation and punitive measures imposed upon them, in the most unreasonable manner, would not be acceptable in any organisation.
How can a Government remain unchallenged in this space? Should privately contracted companies receive a reward for the harsh treatment of vulnerable jobseekers?
Why is the mistreatment and harsh punishment of vulnerable people, considered a ‘positive outcome’ in this policy sphere?
Organisations that value their employees take job satisfaction seriously. Jobseeker satisfaction should be central to jobsearch models because it will enable jobseeker focused continuous improvements.
Assessment of job satisfaction for new workers is vital. Vulnerable workers self-reporting workplace bullying also a serious concern. Corporate culture and attitudes towards long-term unemployed new workers, is also critical to understand.
A jobseeker centred model will push the current model out of the comfort zone it has been in for twenty years. A model which gives voice to jobseekers will push Governments to respond to build a better model focused on supportive outcomes.
A jobseeker centred model is essential because it will make jobseekers visible again. It will give jobseekers personal agency. Vulnerable jobseekers will have a stronger internal locus of control. They will give voice to the access and supports they need.
Exposed will be the urgent need for Job Creation. This will place pressure on lazy Governments who do not meet their responsibilities in this space.
I hope for future where the privately contracted punitive outcome based model is extinct and a nationalised public sector operated, jobseeker centric model, focused on quality supports and jobseeker satisfaction exists in its place.
When the Government chooses not to participate in active job creation, the expectation on people seeking employment to engage in active participation welfare programs, is unfair, burdensome, stigmatising, demoralising and counterproductive. Mutual Obligation under the Keating Government was developed based on the notion that the Government would also commit to job creation and increase vocational training. This is not the case today, nor has it been for some time. The Government is not investing in job creation and vocational education has been largely privatised and is predominantly inaccessible and unaffordable to those who most need it. Active Participation welfare programs are punitive and are underpinned by the assumption that the jobseeker is lazy and needs motivation by a paternalistic guiding hand to participate in society as a full human being. It is time for a new narrative and a new solution.
They are bludgers, rorters, welfare cheats, the undeserving poor, the drug addled, leaners not lifters, people with their hand out, a hindrance to the ‘national interest’, people who don’t try hard enough, job refusers, taking loans from the tax-payer, won’t get off the couch, lack participation, who go from the school gate to Centrelink’s front door, self-entitled, sitting at home playing X-box and eating cheezels and now the latest….The Taxed Nots.
We need to drug test them, force them into unpaid labour, manage their income, give them a card to label them and not trust them with cash, push the welfare cops after them, get them moving, force them to live 45% below the poverty line and if they are poverty line newbie, we should starve them for six months whist the Government simultaneously breaches its human rights obligations. .
With the exception of John Howard’s gem, “the undeserving poor” and Amanda Vanstone’s “Don’t try hard enough and refuse jobs”, these are just some of the labels the Australian Liberal Party has given to those seeking employment and just some of the ‘solutions’ to assist the jobless to find employment, since 2013. Pretty confronting when it is wrapped up in neat little paragraphs, isn’t it?
The dehumanisation and the stigmatisation of those seeking employment must cease immediately and a new narrative and new solutions need to start today.
Mutual obligation has always existed within the jobseeker framework. However, mutual obligation penalties were discretionary and mostly non financial (ie write on your dole form where you looked for work this week). However, postponement of payment could occur for up to two weeks. This was dropped in 1984 as it was causing hardship, but reinstated in 1987. The widening of activity based breaches will be discussed in the next section. Active Labor Market Participation (ALMP) programs were the shift towards paternalistic and punitive measures and financial penalties for the unemployed.
Active Labor Market Participation (ALMP) programs commenced under the Hawke/Keating Government. The original intention of the ALMP programs was to manage retraining and to assist new workers to move across industries in the new globalisation and at a time where long time unemployment was the new reality and had shifted from a long period of relatively low unemployment.
Zigarus ¹ (2004) sums up another driver as, “In essence, this approach holds that the unemployment rate is influenced by how actively the unemployed search for work. The more effort people make to find jobs, and the less choosy they are about what jobs they will take, the lower the overall unemployment.”
Regardless of how well intentioned ALMP programs were when they were introduced, the very essence of these programs are driven by the notion that the unemployed do not have the same desires to achieve a full life as the employed do and they are inherently lazy. Paternalistic and punitive welfare measures are also the antecedents to enabling the stigmatisation of the unemployed. The era of the ALMP programs were the beginning of segregating the unemployed as separate citizens from those who are employed – the bludgers and the workers. Even within the cohort of the unemployed, the narrative was able to change from discussing welfare as a necessity for those out of work to those who deserved assistance and those who did not. Those who needed a hand up and those who just wanted a hand out. This narrative continues today and it has become increasingly more comfortable for politicians to use this stigmatising rhetoric with conviction.
The shift in ALMP programs under John Howard introduced the concept that unpaid labour should be imposed on those seeking employment. Howard’s notion was to deserve a hand out, the recipient must give back to the community. This adds the public’s scrutinisation of the intentions of the jobseeker to the mix. Work for the Dole and similar unpaid labour programs normalised the perception that jobseekers had to be forced to work, as they were not motivated to do so; and if they were working as unpaid labour, this would be the impetus to force them to look for paid labour.
The Howard Government dismantled Keating’s Working Nation (job creation, increased Labor market programs and training and mutual obligation, including breaching penalties). Financial penalties increased and the activity for which you could be breached significantly widened under the Liberals “Australian’s Working Together” policy. The other notable shift from Keating’s policy to Howard’s policy was that financial penalties moved from discretionary to enforced by legislation and contractual obligation on the jobsearch provider.
The initial extremely punitive measures are outlined by Eardley et. al ² as:
The initial legislation proposed to strengthen breaching arrangements by extending the activity test non-payment period to six weeks for the first breach and 13 weeks for all subsequent breaches, while all administrative breaches would incur rate reductions of 25 per cent for eight weeks.
Welfare groups successfully lobbied and this initial bill was defeated in Parliament. However, less severe penalties were adopted. This included an 8 week breach of 100% loss of benefit after the third breach. The Abbott Government put up a bill in 2013 which sought to exempt new Newstart recipients from payment for six months. This has been defeated/taken off the table and a bill for Newstart recipients to be exempt for six weeks, is still progressing though today’s parliament. This shows the long standing determination of the Liberal Party to impose harsh and extreme measures on the unemployed. This also shows the shift from welfare as a human right to dignity, to one of targeting the disadvantaged as a means for budget savings.
Structural changes jobseeker programs to note (but not limited to) are:
The reality for the availability of a jobseeker securing work in Australia, is that there are 19 jobseekers for every job available in Australia (as of May, 2016). That is however, not a true figure, as it needs to be considered that not all jobseekers are equally qualified for all jobs. Therefore, for some the jobseeker to job vacancy ratio is much higher. In addition, vocational education and training has become less available and less accessible for those seeking employment; particularly in lower income brackets. Changes to eligibility for vocational training (ie The Certificate 3 Guarantee is for any eligible Queensland resident who does not already hold and is not currently enrolled into, a post-school Certificate III or higher qualification.) Therefore if you hold a cert III in one vocational area, for example beauty, you are not eligible to undertake vocational training at cert 3 level in business administration.
In addition, specialised services such as JPET (Job placement, employment and training for homeless and disadvantaged young people) have ceased and are now replaced with a one-stop-shop model of ‘streams’ of unemployment.
The Liberal Party’s small government, free market mindset, is an inherent propensity to shy away from job creation and allow the free market to ‘sort out the jobs’, rather than the socialisation of job creation projects. Government’s who do not commit to job creation are not complying with their mutual obligation to the nation’s unemployed citizens. The onus is completely on the jobseeker and the framework within the jobseeker must search for jobs, is unrealistic; secure full time jobs and skills development get increasingly more difficult to obtain.
It should also be noted that barriers to employment and the adverse outcomes of financial and other punitive measures are more severe for (but not limited to); Indigenous Australians, single parents, jobseekers with a disability, youth and homeless and disadvantaged jobseekers.
To achieve the re-humanisation and the de-stigmatisation of those seeking employment; the jobsearch model must shift to a jobseeker-centric framework and away from a budget savings measures framework where jobseekers are currently seen as a strain on the public purse and a dehumanised as a target for savings measures.
Therefore, the jobsearch framework needs to shift from one of mandatory participation to one of voluntary participation.
Jobseekers need to be allowed free agency to participate freely in jobsearch activities. To do this, the narrative needs to shift from the stigmatising rhetoric outlined in the beginning of this article to a more supportive narrative. Jobseekers should be given the support and recognition by Government that they have the same hopes, dreams and aims as the employed and are actively participating in job search to improve their life circumstance.
This then shifts the narrative away from the current underpinning assumption that jobseekers need a paternalistic guiding hand to motivate them; to a narrative that has the underpinning assumption that jobseekers are intrinsically motivated to seek employment.
This then shifts the onus for outcomes from the jobseeker and the public expectation to punish them for non-achievement to the public expectation that the Government of the day has an obligation to perform and enable an environment conducive to an expectation that secure employment can be achieved.
This should put pressure on the Government of the day to engage fully in job creation projects and the public less likely to accept the promises of a free market, small Government intervention model. This means that there would be an increase in the expectation that the Government would create jobs where it had the power to do so. This may include Government intervention to increase positions in all Government owned, operated and funded entities at local, state and federal level. This may also include Government intervention to make mandatory the requirement for quotas within Government funded infrastructure projects to achieve targets of employing those who are employed and underemployed.
This should also put pressure on the Government to ensure they meet the obligation of providing skills development opportunities for those seeking employment. This may mean the implementation of yearly quotas of trainees and apprentices for all Government owned and funded organisations. This would also place pressure on the Government to provide affordable access to TAFE and other training for all jobseekers, both under employed and unemployed.
In regional and rural areas where there is a higher concentration of unemployment; this should also put pressure on the Government to decentralise the public sector at state and federal level. In addition, pressure should be placed on the Government to provide attractive incentives for SME’s and large corporations to invest in relocations or start ups in regional and rural areas.
Government change to enhance the current model would also require the adoption of a basic wage, which will shift the public perception of one that jobseekers are welfare dependent, to a perception of a human right to a basic wage for all citizens. This will also enable the underemployed to be as competitive for jobs as the unemployed. Currently some incentives favour only the long term unemployed and lock the under employed out of the labour market. Punitive measures such as income management (basic card) and financial penalties would not longer need to exist.
The most critical shift that needs to occur is for citizens to reject the stigmatising narrative that currently exists around those seeking employment today, as this narrative is the antecedent for the entire burden of secure employment to fall on the jobseeker, rather than the onus of providing citizens with full, secure employment on the Government.
All of the above can be achieved and it can start with a rejection of the current dehumanising and stigmatising narrative surrounding jobseekers; and it should start with all of us today.
“Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity.”
1 Ziguras, Stephen (2004) “Australian Social Security Policy and Job-Seekers’ Motivation,” Journal of Economic and Social Policy: Vol. 9: No. 1, pp 1-24
2 Tony Eardley, Jude Brown, Margot Rawsthorne, Kate Norris, Liz Emrys, 2005, The impact of breaching on income support customers, Social Policy Research Centre (UNSW)
Letter to the Editor of The Morning
During the election campaign Ms. Landry reassured voters that she knew what it was like to struggle. She could empathise with battlers and she understood their plight. I now wonder if Ms. Landry’s understanding of ‘battler’ is the same as mine and many others in this community.
After the budget announcement, I turned my thoughts to the people who make up this great community that I grew up in. Ms. Landry’s Government’s focus is to treat with extreme harshness, the disadvantaged in this community. People under 25 will not receive any assistance, unless they are enrolled in a study or employed. If they don’t they will have no income. Food, clothing and shelter will not be a viable option. No money to even purchase personal hygiene products. No money to give them even a skerrick of dignity.
According to the 2011 census data, in Capricornia we have 19,786 people between 15 and 25. Of the 13 253 Young people in the Labour force, 1,149 are jobseekers. That is an 8.4% youth unemployment rate in Capricornia, based on 2011 figures. However TMB reported in February that the current youth unemployment figure is 13.6% for 15 – 24 year olds. Therefore the following figures would be expectedly worse based on current data. If we look at entry level jobs, according to vacancy data for March for CQ, there were 949 vacancies across, entry level jobs. Even if this group were all job-ready (which many are not) and secured a job, 200 young people in this region would have no income at all. However, this group are competing with 1,905 unemployed persons across other age brackets, who most likely have more experience. Therefore, hundreds of Capricornian young people will be destitute, homeless and starving.
Census data for 2011 stated that 3060 were seeking work in Capricornia and the vacancy figures for CQ for March show there were 2433 vacancies, across all areas. Considering 1466 of these vacancies are for experienced and qualified jobseekers, this makes the employment search for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged a terrifying impossibility for some. I never thought I would ever live in a country where the Government imposes poverty on its citizens. Ms. Landry, you are a part of that and the people who voted for you are also now part of that. Albeit inadvertently. If you had been honest with this electorate about these cuts, would LNP still hold this seat today?
Could TMB interview Ms. Landry about what she is going to do for people in this community who will fall down the cracks and live in abject poverty? What are her plans for job creation? How will she respond to the increase in need to access charity services? How will she respond if the crime rate goes up? What do the victims of this budget focus on as their hope, when all hope is taken away?
Our only real hope is if the Senate blocks supply and this vindictive, cruel and heartless Government is dissolved and we go back to the polls.