Thinking positively about getting a job


Both the Government and the Opposition have in recent weeks signalled a determination to move people from welfare to work through tougher participation requirements and stiffer penalties for those who fail to comply.

People on unemployment benefits get $120 less a fortnight than people on pensions. They can earn less than someone on the aged pension before their benefit is cut. People lose their benefits for eight weeks if they do not meet activity tests. Australia has a strict and tightly targeted payments system already.

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The Federal Budget this year promises hefty cuts to welfare and the unemployed are firmly in the Government and Opposition's sights. 

Prime Minister Gillard's speech to the Sydney Institute last week, and Tony Abbot's policy announcements two weeks ago, drew unanimous response from the community sector; that getting people into work is a sound objective, but it's harder than it looks.

The welfare reform debate is in danger of sliding into an unhelpful blame game but a more positive approach will limit the number of people who face a lifetime on benefits. Long term unemployed people are seen as a risk by many employers. So how do we minimise the risks and change or shift that risk profile? We need to test the capacity and interest of employers to offer jobs to this potentially high risk group of job seekers.

The income support system must recognise that people will cycle in and out of jobs, not because they are slack, but because that's how the low skill part of the labour market works. In addition, employers have limited capacity to absorb the risks and costs of employing someone who has been out of work for a long time. 

UnitingCare Australia welcomes measures that move people from welfare into jobs, but the UnitingCare network experience as an employment service provider and a provider of services to support families that have had generations of social exclusion does not support tougher sanctions and cuts in entitlements.

There are, no doubt, people who abuse the system. But UnitingCare's experience is that the overwhelming majority of people on unemployment benefits and other income support payments want to work. They want to take responsibility for meeting their families needs and contribute to their community.

The reality is there are a decreasing number of entry level jobs in the Australian labour market. Many people out of work do not have skills or experience that match the needs of employers where they live. So while any job is welcome, low skilled jobs are often short-term, casual placements in retail, hospitality and agriculture. These jobs do not lead to secure, long term employment.

At least this was the UnitingCare experience during the boom times from 2001-2008, and we predict this will continue for the foreseeable future. 

Unemployment in Australia currently sits at around 5 per cent, an enviable achievement by current world standards. People who are not working, employers and governments share responsibility for moving unemployment numbers those next few percentage points down. These are complex, interrelated issues and can only be resolved if all parties involved work together to find effective and lasting solutions.

For many who face significant barriers employment is not possible without early, intensive, specialised support and access to significant training to improve literacy, numeracy and skills that meet gaps in the current labour market. With unemployment at historically low levels we know that all the people who can get jobs with the usual supports have already done so. People who are homeless, who are coping with the reality of mental health problems, who are living with drug, alcohol and other addictions, or who have recently been released from prison can and want to contribute to their community.

But a lack of life skills, relationship skills and job ready skills provide real challenges. Access to transport is another barrier and age and disability are a disincentive for many employers. 

More real training and education are needed to skill people for long-term job opportunities. And post placement support is essential to keep long-term unemployed people in work.

While there are some excellent programs in place in some places, these are often short-term initiatives that have good outcomes but no chance of operating long term.

The programs that do work to get people into jobs use funding from both the employment support system and broader social welfare programs to get people ready to work and support employers to take on people who start with low skills and whose productivity grows over time.

This might seem a complex approach, but it delivers much better social and economic dividends to governments who invest in Australian citizens, to a capacity constrained labour market, and to people and communities, than our current simplistic approach.

Real improvements need real action on addressing labour market factors, anomalies in the income support system, and helping individuals to overcome the personal and systemic barriers that have prevented them from getting and keeping a job.

Lin Hatfield-DoddsLin Hatfield Dodds is National Director of UnitingCare Australia. She is immediate past President of the Australian Council of Social Service.

Topic tags: Lin Hatfield Dodds, UnitingCare, floods, levy, Julia Gillard



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Existing comments

Yes, and it makes my blood boil to hear the way the major parties use the unemployed as a whipping-post. They clearly have NBI (no b- idea) of the realities of being on the pittance doled out, not to mention the constant social demonization and social exclusion experienced by those on it by the thoughtlessly repeated slogan “dole-bludger”. What hypocrites, those receiving all the other forms of government welfare that don’t attract such opprobrium, who join in the predictable chorus!

What patronising, self-congratulating showponies, those politicians with their inflated pension schemes! Job fits? Distance and travel costs? Paper and clothing costs? Do these people know how much time it takes, and how much it costs even looking for a job, on the sub-survival dole? And they want to penalise and demonise them further? And all this, while appeasing the big rich miners and dismantling regional infrastructure and multi-skill level manufacturing?

On the Drum last week, John Barron was the first I’d heard raising these critical issues on this policy proposal. Come on media! It’s about time journalists across the board woke up, and exercised some BCS (b- common sense), and took the politicians and shock-jocks to task.

Stephen Kellett | 18 April 2011  

I wonder if Defence will be required to shoulder its share of cuts, along with Unemployment Benefits, Disability Pensions and Medical Research?

If we cut one super hornet (24 to cost $6 billion over 10 years) we'll save $250,000.000. The new Collins Class submarines will cost$40n for a fleet of 12, i.e.:
$3.3 billion each.

Who are we fighting anyway? Let's support our NGOs more and see what happens.

Joyce | 18 April 2011  

My son was injured while completing the last month of his apprenticeship five years ago.He lifted an air-conditioning unit alone after telling his boss he was going to hurt himself,but was told he would be sacked if he didn't keep doing this.His back has been severely injured and he has spent years on a disability pension with terrible depression.Work Cover have paid Physio but surgery was ruled out.A basic computer course, and voluntary work have found him given 12 hours a week doing cleaning on a site 40 minutes by train and tram.While trying to get back into work he has lost his friends who make very good money as tradesmen,and he has no prospect of a girl friend while he is labelled disabled.He is still hoping to find his own job and has been applying but he has lost confidence in his abilities.Retraining costs money and he has to save for a car first,before being available for many jobs.He lives near a train line,in shared accomodation.

Catherine | 18 April 2011  

My adult grandson is profoundly deaf and has a graphic art certificate and an aged care certificate but can'get a job. Recently he produced 50 application brouchers and distributed them around the Gold Coast (Where he lives). Some people tore them up in front of him, others just threw them in the waste bin. He is inteligent and competent but terrible frustrated.

It seems that there is a culture of rejection for people who are deaf.

David | 18 April 2011  

back in the 70s people talked of the dole bludger and the tightening up of the system at the time. Unfortunately the "Clever" can get around the system, while the "Simple" unfairly get exploited. I was shocked to hear the other day on air of the so called "Pay Day lenders" who exploit those on low incomes, charging enormous interest and charges that obviously they cannot afford. They continuously harrass them if they cannot pay it back. The sooner this practise is made illegal the better.

John Ozanne | 19 April 2011  

I'm only partly surprised a topic like this that goes to the heart of an acute problem in our society and our attitudes is so little commented on. But being unemployed can happen at any time in this world where casualisiation and 24/7 work deadlines and the Harvester concept is derided by both parties. But it is for these very reasons that people ought to wake out of their complacent stupour and place themselves in others' shoes.

There are deep structural deficiencies in the way our modern economies run, and beating up on or ignoring the deprivations of the unemployed is a shameful thing. The very silence of commentary on this topic suggests how far the demonisation has taken hold.

Stephen Kellett | 20 April 2011  

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