'Labor-lite' budget's social welfare report card



The 2014 Federal Budget will be remembered as one of the most punitive in recent history — one that will be forever linked to images of then-Treasurer Joe Hockey smoking a cigar as his Budget sought to make young unemployed people wait up to six months to access Newstart, among other measures that were harmful to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Drug testing with urine sampleIn contrast, the 2017 Federal Budget delivered by Scott Morrison has been cautiously welcomed by many, prompting ABC 7.30 host Leigh Sales to ask the Treasurer on national TV 'Could you be the first Liberal Treasurer in history to deliver a Labor budget?'

'Labor-lite' or not, there are many investments contained in the budget which will work towards a more just society.

The securing of funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme by raising the Medicare levy is a critical investment into all Australians, and will improve services for people with disabilities, their families and carers. Likewise, a needs-based approach to school funding, 'Gonski 2.0', will ensure students in disadvantaged areas get better opportunities to access quality education — the foundation of a positive start in life.

A series of reports into locational disadvantage produced by Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia, Dropping Off the Edge, has shown that areas where children and young people have limited access to education are also overburdened by multiple, complex forms of disadvantage such as housing stress, long-term unemployment and criminal convictions. This has been acknowledged in the fact that the schools, and the communities, most in need of funding will have better access to it.

In line with Closing the Gap targets around employment, the Government will commit $55.7 million over five years to boost Indigenous employment.

One of the most crucial factors in this package is a $17.6 million investment for employment assistance for Indigenous people exiting prison. The over-representation of Indigenous people in our prison system is a national disgrace and efforts to strengthen employment opportunities for people leaving the system are the most effective way to prevent re-offending and strengthen opportunities for people to reach their potential.

But among these commitments that seek to create a more equitable Australia, this budget again seeks to vilify welfare recipients, among the most vulnerable members of our community.


"Cutting off payments will only place already vulnerable people at heightened risk of committing crimes, of losing their housing, of mental health and other health issues being exacerbated."


Many people who receive welfare are highly marginalised — people with disabilities, long-term unemployed young people seeking work in highly competitive markets and grappling with rising youth unemployment statistics, and people dealing with mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and other barriers to connecting with education, employment and the broader community.

One of the proposals outlined in the budget is a demerit point system where welfare recipients lose points — and can eventually have their payments cut — for missing appointments or other similar breaches. Inevitably, this has led to a glut of media headlines focusing on 'slack jobseekers' and 'welfare bludgers'.

Another plank of proposed welfare reform is a trial of 'random' drug testing for new welfare recipients, with people who test positive facing their payments being restricted to a cashless card and potentially having their payments cut after a 'third strike'. In the USA, a similar scheme operating in seven states including Arizona, Kansas and Mississippi has found that welfare applicants generally test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population.

Our government's focus should instead be on addressing the circumstances of people on the margins, supporting people to become job-ready and creating genuine pathways to sustainable education, training and employment.

All of the evidence, and Jesuit Social Services' 40 years of experience working with marginalised people, shows us that connecting people with meaningful activities and supporting them to become active citizens is the most effective way to help people out of the welfare system and turn their lives around. The tangible benefits of this — contributing to society, improved mental health and wellbeing, better access to secure housing — speak for themselves.

The majority of people who receive welfare payments rely solely on this support to pay for ever-rising basics such as housing, groceries and transport. Cutting off payments will only place already vulnerable people at heightened risk of committing crimes, of losing their housing, of mental health and other health issues being exacerbated.

These proposals, which if implemented may have devastating consequences for marginalised people, do not serve to create more productive people. They stigmatise, vilify and will create further stress on people already on the margins.

If we truly want to create a just society — one where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential — we must move past punitive responses and focus on pathways to genuine change.


Julie EdwardsJulie Edwards is the CEO of Jesuit Social Services.

Topic tags: Julie Edwards, Budget 2017



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Existing comments

Thank you, good to read. Too much punitively for health issues that often underscore barriers to employment!
Megan Williams | 11 May 2017

Having worked in the industry for a number of years, both for the government and after privatisation, I know there were, and are, several reasons why people are unemployed. It is not a 'one size fits all' situation. Certainly there are areas which have a very high incidence of multi-generational long term unemployment. There are reasons for this which need to be addressed. These are complex and will need considerable resources, which cost a great deal of money, to properly address. I wish we would look at the way the Scandinavian countries have traditionally approached genuine job training. One problem we face now is the loss of many permanent, full-time jobs due to automation, new technology and de-industrialisation in this country. The other is the increase in part-time as against full-time work. We may well be looking at a real social revolution regarding work, which has been foreseen, but for which no real, practical solutions have been put forward. The rise, and hopefully the success, of the seemingly very different Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron, who have been elected as alternatives to seemingly dated, cliched politicians, may well show both a way ahead and the way not to go. Watch this space. We wait in hope.
Edward Fido | 11 May 2017

The greatest challenges faced by Australia and the world are poverty and climate change and they are both inter-linked. The Turnbull Government have failed miserably on both counts in this budget. They have stooped so low as to even further reduce this country's measly overseas aid budget, and hit our own poor and middle income people with higher taxes. Drug testing the unemployed is just another way to demonise desperate people seeking jobs that in many cases just aren't there. This Government pretends to be concerned about housing affordability but retain the benefits of negative gearing and capital gains tax for the rich investors. This budget again fails the fairness test!
Grant Allen | 11 May 2017

It is silly to describe this budget.as an ALP style one even though it might have included a few elements of ALP policies in it. The LNP Coalition knew it had to do something to avoid introducing a budget like the 2014 one which showed that the LNP Coalition and the rich it have for the very poor. However, there was no mention of programs to address climate change and dealing with heavy pollution. Like Julie, I think it is good to see developments in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), programs to support indigenous Australians, returned service personnel, needs based school funding etc. However there are other ways of funding such services as the NDIS without raising the Medicare levy. Huge savings could be made by: * not making huge donations and tax concessions to the big corporations (many of which pay little or no tax) * refusing to be involved in more US wars (Trump wants to go all out in Syria!) * introducing a Robin Hood tax on the movement of huge sums of money by big corporations and fining the big polluting ones and making them finance clean-ups. The punitive and harassing drug testing policy for those seeking unemployment benefits shows the contempt that Morrison & Turnbull have for the poor. Maybe we should demand that no corporation should have tax concessions or tax dollar handouts unless their executives pass drug tests and that they have paid their full rate of tax!
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 11 May 2017

Education & training for people unemployed is impossible if not mandatory. If people are not forced/pushed by their own or family need what incentive do they have? Do they walk every day to overcome worry, stress and anxiety? Do they eat healthy foods? Both of which would ease calls on health systems. Do they use their God created intelligence to learn instead relying on other people? Drug testing is almost commonplace today possibly effecting they escalation of violence in football games. And why should CES officers be subjected to drug induced behaviour? Maybe rubber stamping them to send them away? Anyone who complains of civil liberties should realise this is a two-way street. We have rights and responsibilities in equal measure in our society. And looking at what the 'rich 1-2%' have never did anyone good. We each have abilities (and in my case, disabilities) but always the abilities must ascend and disabilities overcome. These things strengthen our character and resourcefulness. I am not a liberal voter but think this budget could be a good thing if its not beaten into nothing in the Senate.
Mary | 12 May 2017


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