Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Why Tony Abbott is right about welfare

  • 03 April 2011

When people talk about work-life balance it's easy to get the idea that work is a necessary evil — something we do to make money so we can spend the rest of our time doing the things that really matter. But that's not how Pope John Paul II thought about work. He insisted that work is how we find fulfillment. It isn't just about making money to live; it's one of the ways we live life to the full.

That's why I agree with Tony Abbott's argument that we need to reform the welfare system, even though I disagree with some of his suggestions on how to do it.

(Continues below)



In a recent interview on ABC radio, the leader of the opposition argued that work isn't just about the economy, it's also about individual welfare and the social fabric. What he didn't want to see 'is people who might be participants in the economy just parked forever on welfare when there is an alternative'.

One of the things worrying Abbott is the growing number of people on the Disability Support Pension. He suspects many people on this payment could benefit from work but aren't because of a welfare system that focuses too much on what they can't do and not enough on what they can. He's right.

Our welfare system is disabling. With unemployment payments at around $237 a week, there's no mystery about why a person who's struggling to find work would want to apply for the higher, but still inadequate Disability Support Pension (around $335 per week). But to claim the pension you need to keep showing how your disability makes it impossible for you to work. In other words, you need to focus on what you can't do rather than what you can. That's not the right approach.

The first step in fixing this problem is to eliminate the gap between unemployment payments and the pension. Unemployment payments are too low and need to be increased. The system is encouraging people to focus on their disabilities when it should be encouraging them to think about what they have to offer an employer.

The second step is to make sure that people who can work have real opportunities to work. One way of doing this is