Mixed Budget blessings

7 Comments

The stand-out item in this year's Federal Budget is the long overdue upgrading of support for mental health. The increase in funding for this program and commitment to put in place a 10 year roadmap this year are most welcome. This will enable expansion of services, additional prevention and early intervention for children and young people and improved access to the primary health system for people with a mental illness.

As foreshadowed by the Prime Minister and Treasurer over the last month or two, a major thrust of this Budget is to promote increased engagement of people who have been excluded from employment and training into a pathway for skills development and, where possible, employment. The scale of the investment in training is substantial, with a National Workforce Development Fund being created to deliver 130,000 new training places and $1.75 billion being allocated to improve vocational education and training programs.

A further $143 million is provided for a literacy, language and numeracy program, reflecting evidence over recent years that such programs require substantial investment in order to assist job seekers.

In contrast, too little attention has been given to the complex needs of the very-long-term unemployed. While a $95 million wage subsidy component is designed to assist employers who hire a very-long-term unemployed person, this alone is unlikely to address the pre-employment needs of many job seekers in this situation.

In addition to the literacy, language and numeracy issues faced by many jobseekers, achieving a successful job pathway for many long-term unemployed people requires a range of intensive support programs and intermediate labour market programs. Moreover, the history of employer subsidy schemes in the past is patchy.

I also fear that, despite good intentions, the shift in work experience requirements for this group from six to 11 months could lead more job seekers to drop out of income support payments altogether.

Amid a number of positive employment-focused initiatives, it was a significant missed opportunity for a Welfare to Work reform agenda not to bring Newstart and Youth Allowance payment levels up to a minimum standard to cover essential living costs. An independent Entitlements Commission should be established to make objective recommendations about adequate levels of payments.

The disability support pension was another focus of this budget. It was pleasing that DSP recipients can now work up to 30 hours per week and keep their benefits. At the same time, the introduction of regular, compulsory Centrelink interviews for those under 35 years of age with a capacity to work and stricter requirements regarding work capacity are not guaranteed to achieve the desired results.

The introduction of two wage subsidy programs to encourage employers to take on people with a disability has potential, but, as with other wage subsidy programs, it remains to be seen whether this will be a success.

The decision to create the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission, as recommended by recent Inquiries, is also welcome.

After recognition of a need for much improved regulatory arrangements by successive Inquiries over the last 20 years, the new Commission has the potential to generate important improvements. This would mean the sector would have less onerous administrative costs and that it could deliver more services to those in need.

Overall, the Budget presents a mixed picture. It contains a number of positive measures to promote mental health, employment and training. But without greater investment of resources in individualised support for job seekers and those on DSP to assist their transition to work, we are not likely to see major change.


Paul O'CallaghanPaul O'Callaghan is Executive Director of Catholic Social Services Australia. He has held national leadership positions in the disability and overseas aid sectors over the last decade and been a board member of the National Nonprofit Roundtable and the Anti-Poverty Steering Group. He is an advisor to the Australian Catholic University on community engagement issues.

Topic tags: Paul O'Callaghan, Executive Director, Catholic Social Services Australia, Budget 2011, Wayne Swan

 

 

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Tucked away, almost buried, in this article, is the terrible indictment of the callousness or ignorance of both parties - more inexcusable for Labor - in keeping the screws on the unemployed: the Newstart payment levels remain below "a minimum standard to cover essential living costs." For the government to pander to corporate profiteers and perpetuate the demonisation, humiliation and punishment of the unemployed is a disgrace.

They are stupid, because for every dollar below the standard necessary to keep a roof over a head and nourishing food in their belly, the economy as well as the social fabric suffers. But they are callous and cruel, too because they must know. Yet they have the hide to guard their benefit of generous superannuation and ex-parliamentary pensions!

My sincerest wish is that they all lose their jobs at the next election, lose their cash and asset reserves and find that no-one wants to employ them or will only do so at slave wages, or will require them to ritually humiliate themselves in the process.

The Newstart /Centrelink / merry-go-round is worse than Kafka-esque, and that this recurring nightmare experienced by a significant number of people is not a public outrage amongst the intelligent people in blog-land is a sorry state of affairs.


Stephen Kellett | 11 May 2011


Out of $800m in the education budget half is being wasted on bonus payments to teachers, who are being bribed to do their jobs.

As far as I am aware, no other similar public servants are bribed in this manner. Those who cannot do their job should just be sacked, not bribed.

$222m is being wasted on a scheme to buy off the evangelical religious vote through the NSCP school chaplaincy program.

This is a pure waste of ATO dollars.

The 'discussion paper' on it has yet to be finalised, and there is absolutely no mechanism to measure what these largely unqualified and ill-qualified people actually do in our schools.

Most of the time it is claimed they do no more than be 'a listening ear'- well $222m is a lot to pay for one ear per school isn't it?

But go to the web pages of the chaplain employers and they claim these people are engaged in mental health counselling- yet the mental health budget did not pay for them did it (thankfully)?

This budget is a low grade buy-off as far as education goes.

Getting 'australians into work' is Gillard-Swan's cry when there is hardly any unemployment- a cheap stunt to appeal to Abbott's supporters who feel 'morally outraged' at 'dole bludgers' pimping on the system, while quite happy to take all their middleclass welfare, particularly private health and private school funding, to say nothing of legal tax rorts, family trusts and all the other tricks.

It would be good to read some more critical critques than the usual glazed eye gloss-overs we get from most commentators.
Harry Wilson | 11 May 2011


Of course the Budget will not please everybody but Swan and the government should be praised for focusing on endemic problems instead of attempting to win support from those among the already 'comfortable' who are likely to vote for selfish reasons.
Bob Corcoran | 11 May 2011


Yes, once again the onus for Federal improvement on welfare services is up to the often most vulnerable persons in society. There was NOTHING specific to assist able special needs people to enter or re enter the workforce, and NOTHING specific to assist Indigenous youth or Indigenous others to enter the workforce. There maybe other programs for these marginalised groups of people somewhere but finding the support is a complex navigation. This is a labour government with the first female Prime Minister and i expected something more creative Julia.
rhonda | 11 May 2011


I'm not sure I agree with every sentiment expressed in this article - I think some of the initiatives will bring more change than Paul O'Callaghan admits. But I completely agree with the final comment that 'greater investment of resources in individualised support for job seekers and those on DSP to assist their transition to work' is required.

There are many people on the DSP who are willing and able to work, but small things prevent them. I am reminded of a colleague's adult child who requires assistance with personal care at work. Working cuts out the assistance with this personal care, leaving them to pay a nurse out of their own paypacket. Working therefore becomes a marginal proposition. Another person I know requires a wheelchair-accessible bus on their route to get them to work on time. The transport authority has said that they don't put wheelchair-accessible buses on during peak times.

If we are serious about including people with disabilities in the workplace (and I am), much greater thought and policy planning is required on the seemingly peripheral issues. Because it's the peripheral issues that prevent the central objective being accomplished, in many cases.

One other small observation. It seems to me that people who have disabilities preventing them from working are far more motivated and inspired to contribute than many others. It's a shame, and a loss to employers, that their needs are not being accommodated.
Moira Byrne Garton | 11 May 2011


Reading Stephen Kellett's comment makes me weep. How merciless our governments have become. Now, if we were to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, we'd save 1.2 billion dollars. With that we could increase foreign aid and assist the unemployed and the homeless. And help our very old oldies to live out their last year(s) in a 'home'.
Joyce | 11 May 2011


The balancing act that Swan danced - and had leaked details for weeks, is somewhat commendable in that it does help some of the working families. However, that we have had to reduce foreign aid is a sad reflection on this society. It is a fact that we need working families [and more and jobs are being lost]in order to continue to fill the tax money bag of the government. I think we hear so much knocking of those at the 'top' end of town - yet so many of them and their companies employ hundreds of Australians who then pay taxes. There is - not always - but too often a sense of entitlement and this is one thing that must stop. We do need to contribute to the common good - but butting one group against another all the time is a type of discrimination without due regard for the good they do. I thought we were due for a new paradigm!
Jacki | 09 May 2012


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