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What welfare blow-out? Time to end vilification of people unemployed

Posted May 17, 2017

The Australian Council of Social Service today is calling for an end to media attacks on people who are unemployed, releasing a short Social Security Snapshot dispelling the myth that we have a ‘welfare blowout’ and that people unemployed are the cause of it. 

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS, says it is time for the Federal Government to tell the Australian community the real story about social security in Australia and prepare a Federal Budget that genuinely helps lift people out of poverty, rather than disadvantage them even further.

“It is cruel for people affected by unemployment and low incomes to repeatedly wake up to sensational media headlines which accuses them of being ‘dole bludgers, ‘layabouts’, ‘welfare cheats’ or 'welfare addicts.'’ The vast majority of people are doing everything they can to survive and improve their lives under extremely stressful, difficult circumstances.” said Dr Goldie.

“We’re seeing repeated mean-spirited attempts to vilify and demonise people who are locked out of paid work, mostly through no fault of their own.

“This appears to be a deliberate government strategy to pave the way for further budget cuts on the backs of people doing it toughest in our community.

“Why isn’t the Federal Government talking about the real problems facing people who are unemployed, including the lack of employment opportunities and effective support to get paid work, and the alarming rise in long term unemployment post the GFC?

“Right now there is just one job available for every 10 people who are either locked of employment or need more paid work. Since the Global Financial Crisis, the number of people receiving an unemployment payment climbed from 400,000 to 730,000 (in 2016).

“People affected by the impacts of the GFC, and changes in the economy, are doing it extremely tough. People who are unemployed or underemployed face poverty and desperation. As the Brotherhood of St Laurence said earlier this week, young people are job hunters, not dole bludgers. People receiving income support are parents, carers, people with disabilities, older workers and people of diverse backgrounds, facing major barriers to competing in the open labour market.

“Despite the lack of jobs, governments have relentlessly targeted social security for cuts. Billions have been slashed, including by pushing about 100,000 single parents and people with disability onto the much lower Newstart Allowance.

"At the same time, people on these woefully slow social security payments can’t afford to even house themselves. Last week, Anglicare Australia found that just 21 rental properties were affordable for a single person relying on Newstart and not many more for a single parent.

“The Social Security Snapshot we are releasing today is compulsory reading for anyone who wants to talk about social security spending and policy in Australia. It dispels the great myth that there is anything resembling a ‘welfare blowout’ and that people receiving income support are “welfare addicts.”

"People affected by unemployment and low incomes, now more than ever, need a Federal Government that gives them hope, cares about their wellbeing, and takes seriously the challenges they face."

Social Security Snapshot Overview

  • Almost 3 million people, including over 730 00 children live in poverty, comprising 13.3% of the population.
  • Inequality in Australia is the highest it has been since the 1950s.
  • Long-term unemployment has almost tripled since the Global Financial Crisis. Seventy percent of people on Newstart have been unemployed for more than 12 months..
  • There is only one job available for every ten people locked out of paid work or who want more.
  • Spending on the Age Pension remains the largest area of social security expenditure, quadrupling that spent on unemployment payments ($44b versus $11b in 15/16).
  • Despite the disturbing rise in the number of people long term unemployed since the GFC, overall spending on unemployment payments has flat-lined, rising slower than GDP.
  • Our rates of social security payments are well below the poverty line and some $176 per week below the pension.
  • Australia has the most targeted system of income support in the OECD, with people in the bottom 20% receiving 12 times that of people in the top 20% (2014)
  • People who are unemployed are subjected to one of the more onerous job search regimes in the OECD to get a payment
  • Research from the International Monetary Fund finds that lifting up living standards of people on low and middle incomes is the most important way to increase growth.