“Nyet” To NEETs: A New Approach To Welfare-Bludging Scum

THE LEFT’S insistence — with its vested political interest in addicting lazy people to welfare — that all claimants of unemployment benefits are legitimate, or that it’s “disrespectful” to question them, has been torpedoed by an explosive feature in Murdoch titles; they insist it’s too expensive to prosecute rorts, or that enforcement costs would outweigh monies paid. Here’s a radical idea: let bludgers who won’t work claim welfare. But there’s a catch.

Some will argue that picking on two silly, young, and indisputably bone-lazy girls is mean, cruel, or — God forbid — unfair.

But like snakes, rodents or other vermin, where there are some, there are usually more.

Before I raced out the door this morning, I caught an article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph (and republished across the metropolitan Murdoch mastheads) that has had me simmering with anger for most of the day; returning to my desk tonight I see the Tele has also editorialised on the story of two self-entitled examples of an army of lazy, self-indulgent bludgers.

LAZY, USELESS AND CONTEMPTIBLE…Ashleigh Whiting, 21, and Amy Arman, 17, whose attitude toward hard-working taxpayers who fund their dole-bludging existence is tantamount to wiping their backsides on them. (Picture: the Daily Telegraph)

It’s about time Australia confronted reality — and the army of insidious socialist activists who slap down dissidents with abuse and lawsuits — and accepted that a huge problem exists where the so-called “age of entitlement” is concerned; based on a study quoted in the Tele that was compiled from federal government figures, that age seems to fall between 15 and 29, and the number of its cohort appears to be increasing.

So-called NEETs — young people “not in education, employment or training” — are a double-edged sword; it has long been known, and shown, that school leavers and recent graduates are among those who find it hardest to secure work, and the recent OECD Investing in Youth report found 580,000 Australians in the 15 to 29 age bracket are NEETs: an increase of 100,000 in eight years.

It found 41% of those want a job and are actively looking for one, and we have absolutely no quarrel with those people (or their claims upon the welfare budget) whatsoever.

But it also found 40% (or more than 220,000 young Australians) were “inactive and unwilling to work,” and — in what is either a cake-and-eat-it-too formulation or simply something they think will pull the wool over reasonable people’s eyes — another 19% claimed they wanted a job but weren’t looking for one.

At various times over the years, this column has proposed entirely reasonable measures to help unemployed people (and particularly, young Australians starting out) that will, more to the point, do something about the shameful fact that 40% of all government expenditure is allocated to welfare payments and the attendant culture of entitlement that sees too many undeserving people erroneously think that not only does society owe them for their existence, but that taxpayers should be obliged to bankroll their indolence.

The latest idea — or, more particularly, the latest variant of an ongoing idea — that I have been discussing around the traps has been the concept of a two-year period of compulsory national service, an indenture that carries with it the ability to complete a fast-tracked apprenticeship in carpentry, plumbing, electrics, or some other essential trade in which Australia is facing a chronic shortage.

The thinking is that school leavers can go straight to the armed forces or the emergency services and acquire state of the art, on the job training, and emerge not only with a qualification they can use throughout their lives but also with two years of regular employment, the discipline it confers, and the remunerative benefits that accompany it behind them.

Predictably, those of a more conservative bent I have spoken to think the idea is workable, even if it needs tweaking; those of a more leftward inclination think forcing people to work (never mind if they are wilfully unproductive charges upon the state or not) is an unbridled outrage that should be likened to Nazism and Fascism.

Yes, there are those who cannot work — those who, by dint of psychiatric or physical injury are unsuitable for regular employment — and I have never advocated forcing this group off welfare if they don’t work.

But for the hundreds of thousands who simply refuse, it has long been the position of this column that their refusal should be met with the termination of their eligibility for welfare payments altogether: and whilst this may seem harsh, it reciprocates the action of the bludger who refuses to engage with the contract of mutual obligation that exists between the society and the individual.

I have, however, had another idea. More on that shortly.

Those readers who peruse the articles I have linked today from the Tele will learn the incendiary stories of Ashley Whiting and Amy Arman (pictured, above), who make few bones about the fact they are prepared to “work” only if it demands little or nothing from them, and only if they are nevertheless paid.

Statements that they will “never get a job” and the admission they wouldn’t know how hard it is to get a job because they don’t try are not the sentiments of people who are serious about taking responsibility for their lives.

The complaint of a student that she doesn’t get paid for attending classes would be ridiculous were it not so frightening in terms of the mentality it highlights among some sections of Australian youth.

Whilst these girls no doubt indeed enjoy “chilling at Maccas (sic),” bush-bashing in their old Barina or having Centrelink cover their rent for them, the hard reality is that “Centrelink” isn’t paying — every hardworking family and business that pays tax is footing the bill.

As I have repeatedly insisted in this column, there is no such thing as “government money.”

Accordingly, it is simply unacceptable that the rest of us should be expected to support people like this pair who flatly refuse to get off their arses to help themselves: and as I said at the outset, where there are some — just like an infestation of vermin — when it comes to welfare bludgers, there are invariably others.

This latest report suggests upwards of 350,000 people under 30 have deliberately elected to live off the taxpayer; it is a situation that is just wrong, and cannot be tolerated: a point compounded by the fact that some in Australia complain that Indian and Chinese migrants who pack supermarket shelves, staff petrol stations and clean buildings are “taking our jobs” when those jobs are given to foreign workers for the damning reason that Australians turn their noses up at them.

So what do we do?

Orthodox conservative positions have historically centred on making compliance with the requirements to receive unemployment benefits so onerous as to force the bludgers off the dole and into a job to avoid them; certainly, taxpayer-funded training programs and vocational schemes such as Work for the Dole ostensibly have merit. But in reality, none of this has made a shred of difference.

The Left offers no such obstacles, other than the requirement to fill in forms claiming to have applied for jobs and a means test so tight that you have to be just about on Skid Row to qualify. If you have worked for many years and find yourself out of work, Labor’s regime basically requires you to fritter away everything you have ever saved and earned to qualify for the pittance that is the dole. But for those who have never been bothered to work in the first place, such concerns are irrelevant.

And it remains the case that as meagre as the dole is (I believe about $590 per fortnight at present, including the maximum amount of the bits and pieces that can be added to it), three or four recipients can pool their resources to run a modest household in a very modest rental property (replete with a beaten-up Barina if desired) on about $5,000 per month between them.

Maybe the solution isn’t to kick them off the public purse at all — with the feigned outrage of the Left this would entail — but to leave them on it.

Maybe the solution is to give Newstart and Job Search Allowance applicants the option to declare themselves “unwilling to work” — and to create a special category of benefit for them.

Maybe if they’re paid 50% of the rate received by actual job seekers, this would kill off the “grievance” that they’re better off on welfare than in a job, whilst avoiding the predictable ranting from pinkos that evil Tories are booting people off welfare and into poverty.

After all, claimants would declare themselves unwilling to work. Nobody would force them.

And maybe the savings could be reinvested in higher benefits for those who are actually serious about working as soon as they can nail a job of any description: people who work have obligations that continue even after their last job ended. As an emergency measure, today’s dole payment is of next to no use with essential basic expenses, let alone other obligations that may not be easily abandoned or postponed.

Those savings, if even half of the 350,000-ish who clearly can’t be bothered are honest about it, would be in the order of four or five billion dollars each year: nothing to be sniffed at in a budget context, either, at a time Australia is running $50bn annual deficits.

With half their payment disappearing overnight as the price for getting the rest of the world off their backs, lazy vermin like Ashleigh, Amy, and their hundreds of thousands of fellow travellers might actually get the message that if they want more from life, the answer isn’t to bludge off the hard worker — but to get off their own arses and to do something for themselves.

The world doesn’t owe anybody, and it owes less to the able but unwilling than it does to anyone else.

Making them jump through hoops, threatening to cut them off and showering them with more of the same hasn’t worked.

Perhaps the ticket is to halve the amount these leeches are paid — and, quite literally, to starve them onto the job market.

And really, anyone who feels sympathy for these self-inflicted disaster stories is not quite right in the head.

 

“No Contraception, No Dole” Call A Symptom Of Deeper Issues

THE CALL by Keating government figure Gary Johns to make unemployment benefits conditional on compulsory contraception is an incendiary articulation of resentment toward rampant, profligate welfare by those who work; it points to a growing divide between those who pay tax and those who don’t, and intersects with questions of paternalism and the “right” of some people to have what they want without the attendant responsibility for it.

In what could be a sign of things to come, former Keating government minister Gary Johns has published an opinion piece in The Australian today that baldly declares that anyone solely reliant on unemployment benefits should have the payment of those benefits made conditional on compulsory contraception. We will come back to that pronouncement shortly.

And I say it could be a sign of things to come because the present government — elected to clean up the excesses of six years’ Labor government that encouraged an explosion of the welfare mentality and the culture of entitlement, as much as to clean up Labor’s debt and deficit disaster — has patently failed to date on both these counts.

Even taking into account its difficulties in the Senate, the burden of the Abbott government’s deficit-busting initiatives appears disproportionately targeted at its traditional constituencies of families on middle incomes and the aged, and I believe one of the (many) reasons for the government’s poor opinion numbers stems from frustration that Australia’s ballooning welfare handout regime seems quarantined from any serious attempt to rein it in: lest the vested interests get offended, or the vocal lobbies of bleeding hearts, finger-shakers and outrage pedlars really begin to strut their stuff.

I think Johns has made a fundamental strategic mistake in his article by highlighting case studies involving Aboriginal people, alcoholics and drug addicts; those cases may indeed support his argument, and they may in fact constitute instances in which — depending on your views — the parents in question probably shouldn’t be bringing children into the world based upon their personal circumstances.

But setting these considerations aside, is there anything in Johns’ position that is all that unreasonable?

As ever, it comes down to a conflict between differing systems of values, and whilst I am not unsympathetic to the position he has enunciated I can certainly see both sides of the argument. In fact, I think Johns has touched on issues far deeper than merely whether or not dole recipients should be on compulsory contraception.

I have a big problem — a big problem — with the kind of paternalistic, Orwellian, nanny-state drivel that forces government-determined behaviours on entire populations; here in Australia we live in (supposedly) a free country: and the heavy hand of Big Brother, most usually associated with the Left and its penchant for legislating against freedoms of thought and expression, is an implement with which I have no truck.

By the same token, however, I have a big problem — a very big problem — with the explosion of a handout/entitlement mentality in Australia predicated on the obscene myth that “government” will support virtually everything and anything; with 40% of all government outlays now tied up in one form of handout or another and a similar percentage of the adult population in this country now entirely dependent on these handouts as their sole or primary means of subsistence, Australia is in danger of becoming a two-tier society: a large minority that does nothing, propped up by a dwindling and resentful majority increasingly taxed to the hilt to support the largesse doled out to them.

Or — and this is becoming a familiar, if impotent, story — with the country simply plunged into an uncontrollable spiral of debt to finance the welfare binge that at some point will reap cataclysmic social and economic consequences.

Yet all the while, the welfare class burgeons, spreading an insidious disease of indolence and apathy, as it galvanises into an increasingly untreatable tumour on the national interest and welded to the political Left as its guarantor.

Is this really the kind of country we want to see in Australia?

The problem, to which Johns alludes, speaks to those addicted to the welfare/handout/entitlement culture on the one hand, and will arouse the outraged and indignantly righteous fury of the finger-shaking bleeding heart industry that this column holds (and has always held) in great contempt. Expect to hear a lot of seething rhetoric about cruelty, heartlessness, and the desire to plunge the “less fortunate” into abject poverty, ruin, and — not to put too fine a point on it — the condemnation to early death.

One of the ironies is that all those entrenched minions of welfare dependency have an entire orchestrated movement of finger-shakers to defend them at all: organisations, movements and whole industries solely devoted to the defence of the “right” of those who extract a living from the taxpayer to continue to be able to do so, and which themselves are partly or entirely dependent on the government to even engage in this advocacy by virtue of handouts, grants, and other funding available to those who want to make noise and lord their “values” over the silent majority that bankrolls them.

On the other hand are those in work and in business whose taxes fund the citadel of welfare whose walls continue to expand, seemingly unchecked.

These people are not organised; they do not have whole industries to advocate for them; they are, by and large, reasonable and decent people who do not find gratification in the needless suffering of others.

But in legislating and enforcing notions like generosity and charity, much of the goodwill associated with them is obliterated, as the creeping hand of the tax office slithering ever deeper into pay packets removes both the discretion to “give something” of one’s free volition and, equally and importantly, exactly what the money taken is expended on.

The myth that “government” picks up the tab for well over a hundred billion dollars in welfare payments each year is exactly that — a myth — and it is underpinned by those who earn an income that is taxed more and more heavily to pay for it.

Rather than finding representation in a systemised industry of vested interests and guilt merchants, these people expected the Abbott government to be their voice; a conservative government whose rhetoric about ending the “age of entitlement” was expected to see a much heavier emphasis on personal responsibility, alongside a culture of opportunity in Australian society that rewarded — rather than penalised — enterprise, success, and the fruits of good, old-fashioned hard work.

And far from representing any explicit or enthusiastic endorsement of the ALP and the Communist Party Greens, I think a very big component of the election-winning numbers these odious entities now enjoy in reputable opinion polling is comprised of Coalition voters disgusted by the unwillingness and/or inability of the government to lay so much as a glove on the entrenched welfare culture it was elected, in part, to begin to roll back.

And this brings us neatly back to Gary Johns, and his explosive call today for unemployment benefits to be made conditional on compulsory contraception.

I’m not going to bog down in details over whether the woman should take the pill or get an IUD, or whether the male should wear condoms or get “the snip” — either way, Johns’ intent is obvious without diverting down tangential routes whose only purpose in this kind of discussion is to change the focus from welfare onto (I would guess, with a glance at the outrage industry) sexism, misogyny, and “wimmin’s rights.”

For the same reasons, I’m not going to dwell on the intricacies of enforcement, the efficacy of contraceptive measures, or similar practical impediments: these, too, are obvious, and we don’t need the finger-shakers to point them out.

But I will make some allusion to what I know will inevitably be the comeback of these guilt pedlars — the regime of so-called middle class welfare introduced by the Howard government in the form of baby bonuses, family tax benefits and first home buyers’ grants — and simply observe that whilst these were all aimed at stimulating and maintaining more productive forms of economic activity, they were also the thin edge of the wedge, and probably should never have been introduced.

They have also, as it turns out, provided those who would addle ever greater numbers of lazy and greedy people with the insidious scourge of profligate welfare with something of a hook of legitimacy on which to hang their claims that flinging good money after bad on addicting people to the public teat is somehow justified.

The point — and I think we are going to see a lot more of this — is that welfare expenditure in Australia apparently knows no bounds, and the scope for its expansion is apparently limitless in the eyes of those whose livelihoods depend on its continuity, acceptability, and indeed its proliferation.

I’m not talking about the recipients themselves, and certainly not those who really need it: rather, the objectionable lobby industry that itself would not exist without the incentive-destroying presence of an expanding welfare regime in Australia, and whose efforts detract rather than add anything meaningful to the nature and character of Australian society.

I want to be explicitly clear about one point, and have been consistently both for the duration of this column and for decades beforehand: no genuinely destitute person, or anyone in legitimate need, should ever be denied some kind of assistance at the public expense; a reasonable and moderate social safety net is entirely consistent with the reasonable governance and conduct of a civilised and advanced, modern, first world country like Australia, and should always be maintained.

The problem is that there are too many noisy advocates — with their snouts in the trough to boot — finding too many new varieties of “genuine” need, advancing arguments that lower acceptable thresholds of what is “reasonable” or “moderate,” and identifying too many new groups of people who can “benefit” from the largesse that is harvested from people who work hard only to see an increasing share of the rewards of their efforts taken and given to those who refuse to lift a finger for themselves.

The vast majority of people claiming welfare in this country may well have the legitimate need to do so; the fact remains that a sizeable contingent simply refuse to get off their backsides and work.

The last thing the country should be burdened with is the cost of supporting lifestyle choices like having children.

It is about time the practitioners of public discourse in Australia — particularly those on the Right — stopped messing around with the vested interest lobby, trying to appease and mollify the stinking carcass it represents around the country’s neck by studiously avoiding saying and doing anything that might offend and/or antagonise it, and began to get serious about attempts to rein the whole mess of indolence money back in, and to get Australia’s regime of welfare expenditure back onto a more realistic and sustainable footing.

Johns may have offended many with his piece in The Australian today, although I hasten to note those most outraged will indisputably be those with the most to lose.

But unless something more plausible than the Abbott government has managed or attempted to date is done, and the spiralling culture of welfare dependency in Australia permanently curbed, far more of this kind of sentiment will follow — with the risk that much of it will be far less nuanced, or based in reason, as what Johns has said today.

There are deep problems in Australian society, and its apparent addiction to a handout mentality is one of them.

Just as problematic is what, and how, to do anything about it.

 

 

On DEET Street: 40 Jobs Per Month For The Dole Is Fair

THE OUTRAGE INDUSTRY has reacted with fury to  new rules that young job seekers apply for 40 jobs per month before receiving a cent in welfare, on top of longer qualifying periods for benefits; these measures are not unfair, not unreasonable, and the demands of agenda pedlars over other people’s money deserve to be slapped down. Government owes something to job seekers, but not the fostering of a mentality of entitlement to welfare.

I’ve been paid the dole before; I reckon I might have taken half a dozen fortnightly dole payments or so in the 20 years since I started full-time work.

I know what it’s like to be broke, up the effluent billabong, and to have no idea where the next rent payment/bill payment/supermarket shop/fuel purchase might come from. But as things stand in Australia today, you won’t convince me it’s not difficult to get the dole if you’re determined to do so.

It is also a matter of shame and revulsion and toe-curling embarrassment, at a fundamental personal level, to have ever needed to accept a red cent from Centrelink. The idea of taking welfare from anyone runs counter to every fibre of my being.

The news today that Social Security minister Kevin Andrews is implementing tough new requirements for job seekers aged under 30 is welcome; a new rule that young unemployed people meet an activity test of having applied for 40 jobs each month before they’re paid the dole is fair, reasonable, and hardly excessive.

To deal firstly with the extension of the qualifying period to receive benefits at all for these young people — who must now wait six months to become eligible — I simply observe that it’s not unreasonable to expect these people to work at all if they are able to do so.

I have always taken the view (before, during and after my 20s, just to be clear) that if you want a job you’ll find one; if you’re serious about earning your own money you’ll find a (legal) way to do so; and that unless you have your head wedged firmly up your backside in terms of inflexibility over what you will or won’t do (or whether or not you’re prepared to do it for, say, 30 hours a week instead of 40), there is always work to be obtained.

People under 30 carry certain advantages for the people employing them: they are, viewed against their older competitors for jobs, relatively cheap to hire; they are adaptable; they come with fresh ideas and energy that stem from their youthfulness; and they are the most likely group in the workforce to stumble into something “by accident” and discover they have actually found a calling they can make a career of.

But only — only — if they are prepared to work.

Aside from blather about “entitlement” and “cruelty” — the former representing a mentality that must be destroyed in this country, and the latter nothing more than melodramatic pseudo-emotive poppycock — nobody has ever articulated an argument in my earshot as to why under 30s need be out of work at all that makes sense.

Under-employment is one thing; transitory employment whilst looking for “the” job is another, and there is nothing wrong with either. Sitting on one’s arse expecting taxpayers to provide a free ride on the gravy train, however, is another matter entirely.

As things stand, those in receipt of unemployment benefits are required by the government to actively look for work. Job seekers are currently expected to apply for a minimum of ten jobs per fortnight (which we’ll call 20 per month for simplicity) and to keep a diary or similar record of who these jobs were with, whether they were full-time or part-time situations, and the contact details of the organisation the job seeker had approached.

Let’s call a spade a spade: at 20 jobs per month, the government expects job seekers to apply for one job per day. By doubling this requirement to 40 jobs, we’re still only talking about two jobs per day. That doesn’t include weekends, for the benefit of any pedant reading who would like to split hairs.

So a little perspective is required; those professing outrage over the “cruel” impost of more accountability think two job applications each day is too much to ask. And given a simple phone call or the sending of a pre-prepared CV by email constitutes “a job application” for Centrelink purposes, the ten to fifteen minutes two applications might take explodes the argument that the requirement is excessive.

Setting aside the issue of dole payments for a moment, the government — through Centrelink — provides a raft of other services for job seekers to utilise, free of charge; these include (but are by no means limited to) computers to send emails and research jobs online; job placement agencies to assist job seekers in finding work; and case workers who can deal with specialised or compromised requirements certain individuals might experience in looking for work.

None of these services — that do not include a welfare cheque — are to be withdrawn from young job seekers or, indeed, anyone looking for work who for whatever reason is not eligible to receive benefits at a particular time.

They are, however, a helping hand in providing tools that can engender the independence, self-sufficiency, and exercise of personal responsibility that comes with securing employment.

It is in this area that I do agree the government owes job seekers a better deal than it gives: whether it’s appointments with job placement officers or routine mandatory meetings at Centrelink (that may or may not have a payment attached to them), I think for the amount of money the government spends on the provision of these services, far more efficiency can be achieved.

It’s counter-productive (to say nothing of the utter waste of people’s time) for someone to go to their local Centrelink office for a compulsory meeting and be stuck there for literally half a day waiting. If the outrage lobby wants to get mad at something, this is a more appropriate target for them to take aim at.

But asking people to do more before they get a taxpayer-funded payment?

I think two things that are not necessarily mutually exclusive need to be separated out here.

The first is the issue of welfare money for the unemployed, and whilst some will disagree I think it’s especially the case with younger people that there is no reason for them to be out of work — at least, not entirely. There is nothing wrong with cleaning dishes or waiting tables or delivering pamphlets or washing cars.

There is nothing wrong with taking a part-time role if a full-time role is not available, or taking something (even if it looks and smells like a dog) that does not appear to represent a long-term proposition, and using it for what little it might indeed prove to be worth. It’s all work. It’s all money. And in most cases, it’ll be more than the miserable stipend Centrelink pays anyway.

(The paltry nature of the dole is enough to motivate anyone to get off it ASAP by finding a job — or at least it should be — but we’ll leave that one alone for now).

I don’t deny that a lot of the (phenomenal amount of) short-term and/or transient work available is not particularly appealing. But with the amount of it around, and with younger people especially suited to its requirements by virtue of their youth, I am yet to hear — as I said at the outset — a convincing argument as to why people shouldn’t take this work on even if it’s simply to “kill time.”

Consequently, I am yet to hear an argument that stacks up as to why a six-month qualification period is excessive or harsh.

But if, after six months of looking, someone is still out of work and becomes eligible for the dole, why is it “cruel” or “unreasonable” to expect this individual to give an account of him or herself that includes having put their hand up for ten jobs each week before getting welfare payments?

It isn’t, of course.

The second issue is in fact that requirement of 40 job applications per month to get any welfare money.

How can it possibly be regarded as “cruel” to expect unemployed people, with nothing better to do, to apply for two jobs each day?

Phone disconnected? Use the freebie at Centrelink. No internet connection? Use the freebie at Centrelink or the job services provider the government pays for.

For the record, the loudest voice raised against these measures to date has been Senator Rachel Siewert from the Communist Party Greens, which is typical; it’s one of those oxymorons of modern public life that those who bleat most loudly about entitlement are those whose voices are heard advocating personal responsibility most rarely, and Senator Siewert is continuing a “fine” Greens tradition on that score.

In introducing these changes, Andrews — and the federal government, for that matter — is not being cruel. Or unfair. Or unreasonable.

In fact, it’s high time the balance between “rights” and “responsibilities” in this country was recalibrated toward the latter of the two; there has been for too long in Australia an increasingly unhealthy tendency for people at large to approach life with a victim mentality, and to approach the government with an oustretched hand in expectation of something for nothing.

Rather than being pilloried for any cruelty, I think people should be applauding Andrews, and lamenting the fact — if a criticism really must be made — that the changes he is making to social security, and breaking the culture of entitlement, don’t actually go as far as they should.

 

Sham Debate: Charade Of “Live On Newstart” Discussion Masks Need For Reform

This week has seen one of the most inane and pointless “debates” of recent times in Australian politics: can you live on Newstart, the $38 per day jobseeker benefit? Of course not. Yet again, a meaningless fracas has wasted the opportunity for sensible discussion of an increasingly urgent issue.

I really should be taking the opportunity to score a partisan free hit, and to blame Families minister Jenny Macklin for skipping away from a diversion she created.

After all, it was she — at a press conference on the issue of taking single mothers off the parenting payment when their youngest child turns eight, and placing them instead on the significantly lower Newstart allowance — who started the rot, firstly by claiming she could live off Newstart, and secondly on account of the doctored transcript, issued by her office, which sought to edit her dubious claim out of existence.

But I won’t; readers know that I believe far too much money is spent on welfare in this country, and that much of what is spent is misdirected, and so Macklin’s comments should at least receive credit for potentially opening a very necessary can of worms.

Even so, it’s unlikely to result in a serious debate among parliamentarians, and that — yet again — it a triumph of the politics of spin, stunts and slogans over the real business of what we elect governments to do.

Clearly, it is not realistic to expect people to be able to live on $38 per day.

Just look at the modern world around us: the cost of housing, which has ballooned in the past 10 years; the cost of utilities and transport, which have rocketed well beyond any remotely realistic measure of increase in the cost of living; add in costs of running and maintaining a vehicle, food and clothing, and healthcare, and Newstart — the dole — is so ridiculously inadequate that anyone with real-world obligations who finds themselves in need of it may as well declare bankruptcy and engineer their eviction from their homes.

The fraught issue of welfare — or, more specifically, the overall excess of it coupled with the problem of more effectively targeting it — has long been a bugbear of mine, and it annoys me greatly that, once again, a series of stupid stunts are likely to kill off any meaningful attempt to deal with it.

First things first — the week’s unedifying and, frankly, obscene events on the issue.

I actually welcome the initiative to move single mothers off parenting payments once their youngest child turns eight — with a couple of qualifications.

I understand that some women find themselves on the single mothers’ pension through no fault of their own; marriages (or relationships) that end, sometimes involving a violent or otherwise abusive man who also happens to be the breadwinner, leave women in such circumstances not just in dire need of financial assistance, but also well-deserving of it.

It is just such women for whom I feel great sympathy for, and for whom the changes taking effect in their welfare payments will inflict a disproportionate and undeserved hit.

But others, who simply walk out of marriages (or relationships) because they have simply become bland and loveless, or no fun any more, or to evade financial responsibilities or because they want to run off with a new partner, are a different kettle of fish.

And a third group, obviously, are those serial single mothers with a string of illegitimate children, sometimes born to a string of different fathers, who opt to eke a living out of a career of having children and pocketing taxpayer money.

Are these three groups the same?

One thing I feel compelled to point out is that we shouldn’t be shying away from discussing such issues; just because the Prime Minister is playing the gender card like crazy and seeking to demonise anyone who disagrees with her (or her government) wherever a link, real or imagined, to “misogyny” can be claimed, does not mean these matters should be tiptoed around or quarantined from discussion.

But by the same token, Australia’s welfare system, as it stands, is predicated on a basis of lowest common denominator, one-size-fits-all assumptions, and if the assumption being applied is that women should be able to get a job once their youngest child is at school, it at least should be trialled, evaluated, and refined or later abandoned if proven unworkable.

In that sense, I have no problem with moving women in such circumstances off a far more generous welfare benefit — paid by working taxpayers — as an incentive to look for work.

But the initiative has been trivialised this week; Macklin’s remark that she could live off the dole — deemed “inaudible” in the official transcript issued by her staff — is not only an insult to those affected by the very measure she was talking about, but has been allowed to hijack “debate” that might otherwise have been beneficial.

Communist Party Greens MP Adam Bandt, frankly, should have had more brains than to claim he could live off the dole; further, his promise to do so for a week is one of the emptiest and more offensive attempts of recent times by an MP to put himself in the shoes of a particular interest group: Bandt’s parliamentary salary is available both before and after such a “trial” and simply renders the exercise pointless.

Julia Gillard, of course, refused to be drawn; in one way a sensible approach, but in another perhaps inadvisable given the sidestep of a women’s issue it represented.

But whether we’re talking about single mothers, or debating the merits of whether on an individual basis they are deserving or undeserving, or whether it’s even possible at all to live off what  a welfare payment delivers, there’s a bigger issue.

Simply, is Australia’s welfare system doing what it is intended to do?

Are we as a country — literally — getting value for the money we’re paying?

I don’t think so.

I have been on the record previously as stating that were it possible to weed the bludgers out — and there are many of them — the remaining, needy people could and should be paid more. It’s a position I stand by.

But, as ever, the devil is in the detail. How do you weed the bludgers out?

Certainly, it isn’t going to happen in a system based on lowest common denominator assumptions and fixed criteria that utterly ignore the personal circumstances of a given individual.

Age pensioners, obviously, deserve their money; again, were it affordable, I think they should be paid more.

Likewise disability and illness recipients who are assessed as being totally and permanently incapacitated — that, too, is a no-brainer.

But for most of the remainder of what is spent on welfare payments, a huge grey area exists.

And — at the outset — it has to be emphasised that a welfare payment has, in fact, been paid for by someone: be it a portion of the profits of business, or the taxation paid by other individuals on their income, people who have worked hard to generate wealth and income are the only reason such payments even exist.

There are those who believe it’s “government money” — ultimately, there is no such thing.

If we use the single mother scenario as an example, there is a clear difference between the woman on the run from a violent partner, with few if any skills, and the woman content to live off free payments until they eventually, some day, run out.

Or between the single mother with multiple young children whose time must clearly be spent in the home, and the woman whose children are all at school, who left the workforce to have children, and whose only real justification for doing no work is that she must be available at home at all times on the off-chance something happens with her kids at school.

These are different situations; why should the “solution” be uniform?

Or, looking to a scenario based on unemployment benefits rather than parenting payments, there is a major difference between someone with a family, obligations totalling perhaps thousands of dollars each month and great difficulty finding new work, and some bludger who has plenty to offer in employment but who opts to live in public housing, receiving every type of low-income assistance available, and is one individual who actually can live off the miserly stipend the dole represents.

And what of households in which one partner works part-time whilst the other, primary income-earning partner has lost their job; their savings exhausted and no employment being forthcoming despite frantic attempts to secure same, Newstart isn’t payable because the part-timer brings a few hundred after-tax dollars in each week, and the household faces bankruptcy and eviction as it collapses under the weight of its financial obligations?

Who are we kidding here?

And before anyone talks about pie-in-the-sky initiatives such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme — such as it is — it needs to be remembered that that actually needs taxpayer funding as well.

Perhaps one way to talk about moving ahead with welfare reform is to get case workers to do precisely that: actually evaluate cases based on the circumstances of the individual, rather than against some set criteria that don’t even reflect reality, let alone provide any assistance in any truly meaningful sense.

It might be that — parenting payments aside — a time-limited system based on, say, the minimum wage (several times the present rate of Newstart) provides a solution, whereby benefits are paid at a higher rate that more closely reflects the circumstances of the recipient, but which cut out after, say, six months.

The point is that this is a complex issue; there are no easy answers and, indeed, none of any value forthcoming from the present government.

The Coalition at least appears to be tossing around a plan to increase the amount dole recipients can earn before they start losing money from their welfare payments, but this is only marginally better than what is presently in place.

I don’t have the answers, of course, but I do believe that even on the handful of scenarios canvassed here, it’s obvious that drastic reform of Australia’s regime of welfare payments is urgently and critically overdue.

Rather than simply tinker with the existing reality, it may well be that the whole thing needs to be turned on its head and started again; reformed in such a way that genuinely needy people get real help, and that those simply with their hands out are given short shrift.

But the one thing I’m certain of is that half-arsed stunts about living off $38 per day and semantic squabbles over who said what will achieve nothing, and should be viewed as an indictment of whichever elected representative/s, of whichever political stripe, think it’s a good idea to engage in them.

What are your thoughts?

 

 

Welfare Budget: Some More Thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, I posted with some broad-brushstroke ideas about a shake-up of the welfare system in Australia, and I wanted to revisit that quickly here today.

An article — entitled “Even Conservatives Say the Dole is Too Low” appears in today’s issue of The Age; you can read it here http://www.theage.com.au/national/even-conservatives-say-the-dole-is-too-low-20111015-1lqm6.html.

The article points out that the dole is $130 per week less than a disability pension, and $345 per week less than the minimum wage.

It also notes that the annual cost to the federal budget of increasing the dole by $50 per week would be $1 billion.

And that money would need to be found from somewhere…

Judging by the comments some readers have posted in response to my original article on 2 October, the whole issue of welfare reform is (as expected) an emotive issue, and I am the first to admit that arguments put by all sides have at the minimum some merit, and I say that with no intention of dissecting and quantifying that today.

I simply wanted to include the link provided to the story in The Age, as it complements the discussion we’ve been having and does so from a different angle from those we have approached it from thus far.

 

On a completely different subject, I will be posting again late today or this evening on the issue of “Pollies’ Perks” — an issue that has long been dear to my heart, and on which someone has finally taken a first step to address. Stay tuned!