Welfare groups say job seekers are being demonised in budget lead-up

In an article by Lenore Taylore, posted in The Guardian on Wednesday 27 April, 2016,  social services leaders point to stories based on government data that they say may be a ‘softening up’ for a budget crackdown on welfare recipients.

Jobs Australia, ACOSS and the National Welfare Rights Network, have attacked the Turnbull government and sections of the media for a series of stories “unfairly misrepresenting” unemployment benefits data to “vilify” and “demonise” the 800,000 Australians who cannot find a job in the leadup to next week’s budget.

The welfare groups pointed to the Daily Telegraph’s Tuesday story headlined “Booze drugs dole rort ... dole grubs shirking work”, and other recent stories including one titled “A quarter of dole recipients shirking appointments and jobs”, both “exclusives” based on government data.

Tuesday’s story was based on figures from the Department of Human Services showing that 70,000 people the Telegraph described as “dole bludgers” had been claiming illness and received a doctor’s certificate to show they were too sick to undertake the normally required job search activities.

The chief executive of Jobs Australia, David Thompson, said the level of medical exemptions would have risen after major changes to eligibility for the disability pension – forcing many people with a “partial” capacity to work onto the lower unemployment benefit.

Thompson said the second story: “A quarter of dole recipients shirking appointments and jobs” was also “unfair”, saying it was appalling that anyone unemployed was characterised as a “shirker” or a “bludger”.

Gerard Thomas, policy and media officer with the Welfare Rights Centre, said the period in question coincided with major changes to the job seeker rules, during which around 350,000 job seekers were shifted to different employment service providers, causing inevitable confusion about where they had to go for their first appointment with a new provider. Missing an appointment leads to an automatic suspension, but almost all the jobseekers in question had their payments reinstated with full back-pay, suggesting they had a “good reason” for not attending an appointment.

ACOSS CEO, Cassandra Goldie, expressed concern that the government and parts of the media have been pushing numerous stories unfairly misrepresenting data and vilifying the unemployed as undeserving dole bludgers ahead of next week’s budget

Equally concerning were the reports citing predictions that Australia’s “welfare bill” will rise to $190bn by 2020, with the implication that the total amount, and the increase, is due to unemployment benefits.

Unemployment benefits only represent around 7% of that “welfare” figure and are falling as a percentage of gross domestic product, whereas pension payments represent 40% and are rising, and family and childcare payments represent 25%.

Read the full article at The Gaurdian