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Time to take on the welfare sceptics

  • 29 July 2014

The Federal Government demonstrated its harsh attitude towards job seekers with the announcement on Monday of a new regime that will see unemployed people forced to look for 40 jobs a month and to take part in work for the dole or training for up to 25 hours a week. The Coalition's rhetoric around the issue amounted to victim-blaming, with assurances that the new rules would 'improve the prospects of job seekers' and Employment Minister Eric Abetz reviving the term 'job snobs'.

Yet evidence shows that work for the dole doesn't get unemployed people into jobs, while voters have expressed concern that the Government's budget measures will create a more unequal society.

This latest crackdown on unemployed people reveals disdain for the findings of poverty and unemployment research — an attitude that the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, displayed many times while selling the Federal Budget. Hockey and his colleagues are far from alone in implying that unemployed people are work-shy dissolutes who require hard-nosed moral reform. What's astounding is that their role as public figures doesn't stop them getting away with the kinds of views that produced the horrors of the workhouse.

Imagine how the quality of the debate would improve if those who blamed the victims of poverty and illness for their plight were publicly labelled welfare sceptics or denialists, and forced to back up their claims.

Social research academics would be thrust into the spotlight, arguments would fly furiously back and forth at dinner parties, frontbenchers who vilified the unemployed would be ridiculed, and Facebook pages would spring up to shame welfare sceptics. Most importantly, poor people in this rich country might be allowed to live with some measure of dignity and security.

The media is continually criticised for the way it reports on the science of climate change. Yet even when it pits a climate denialist like Andrew Bolt against a CSIRO researcher like Dr Steve Rintoul, the discussion encompasses the quality of the science. While the big polluters flood the public sphere with misinformation, respected news sources such as Fairfax accept that climate scientists are the authorities in this area.

The ABC has a policy of following 'the weight of evidence' on the issue, and says it has 'well and truly moved on from the debate as to whether or not AGW is real'.

Yet public figures get plenty of leeway when it comes to ignorance about welfare issues — even when that ignorance