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Time to stop punishing the unemployed

  • 21 November 2018
A Senate inquiry is peeling back the façade of Australia’s purgatory for unemployed people, showing the harm, the futility and the infuriating uselessness of jobactive, the latest incarnation of our privatised employment system.

Instead of helping people get work by taking the time to work through their problems or actually listening to unemployed people, they are subject to a wide range of compliance measures, to ward off their purported dole bludging tendencies. They must do hours of Work for the Dole (WFTD), attend useless training, take drug and alcohol tests, not have access to cash, go to parenting classes, all regardless of their skills, interests or other responsibilities, all administered by various job agencies, now known as jobactive.

Since the 90s, Australia’s income support system and employment services have shifted to an ever harsher regime of compliance and penalty, while failing to find work for hundreds of thousands of people.

These 65 private job agencies receive $7.3 billion over the five year period of jobactive. The problem here isn’t the amount of money — in fact, Australia spends half of the OECD average on people who are unemployed — but that it’s not money well spent.

I was a pretty damaged kid when I first engaged with the CRS Australia, the former public disability employment agency, my illness and disability were almost the least of my problems. I was angry, isolated and arrogant (as one youth worker told me in frustration). I’d worked as a cleaner, or a kitchen hand and a waiter, relying on my body to earn a living. The early 90s recession arrived at the same time as my illness, leaving me unemployed, bones aching and skin raw.

I was referred to the CRS while I was on the dole. As well as recommending I apply for Sickness Benefit, my case worker sat down and asked me what I wanted and needed.

I had no idea and very few people had ever asked. Gradually, she was able to tease out the tenuous ideas I had about study, work and even helped me get some driving lessons. I started a TAFE course, learning about this new-fangled stuff called Windows and Word.


"The world of work has radically changed, with fewer and fewer jobs available for those without skills or education which are expensive to acquire. Anglicare’s Jobs Snapshot found that close to 111,000 people are competing for 26,000 available low-skilled, entry-level jobs."  

I saw her regularly