The Coalition has today outlined a sweeping set of changes to Australia’s welfare system including a massive expansion of work for the dole schemes, which would force unemployed Australians to work for up to 25 hours a week to continue receiving social security payments.
After foreshadowing the changes on the weekend, which will see $5.1 billion spent over the next three years, the Coalition today released an exposure draft confirming a range of measures designed to push job seekers back into the workforce.
The Work for the Dole provisions are staggered and will hit young people the hardest, with 18-30 year olds forced to work 25 hours a week to continue receiving Newstart payments.
This means they will be paid just $10.21 for every hour of work they complete.
30-49 year olds will be forced to complete 15 hours of Work for the Dole programs per week and individuals in both age categories will have to complete 40 job searches per month.
According to the draft exposure, the Work for the Dole programs will be overseen by local coordinators and run by “local councils, schools, community organisations and state and federal government agencies”.
Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker told ABC 24 that studies showing Work for the Dole programs do not help people find long-term employment were outdated, and that his consultations around the country had indicated it had helped unemployed people to gain confidence, purpose, and new skills.
“Work for the Dole has a range of positive benefits,” he said, arguing it helped jobseekers develop skills such as dressing appropriately and turning up to work on time.
In July this year, the Coalition established 18 Work for the Dole sites around the country with the intention of implementing the new measures on a national scale in July 2015.
Earlier in the year the Coalition announced it would legislate to prevent under 30s from accessing the Newstart benefit for their first six months of unemployment. The legislation is yet to be passed by Parliament.
Youth unemployment in Australia – which is based on 15 to 24 year olds – is currently at a 12 year high.
Under the Coalition’s Work for the Dole expansion, those moved on to the scheme will have to attend programs for 26 weeks of the year.
The Newstart freeze period means under 30s will not be able to access the benefit for an entire year if they do not participate in the Work for the Dole Programs.
Today’s exposure draft outlined several groups exempt from the program including full time students, part-time apprentices, principal carer parents, those eligible for Disability Employment Services, and those capable of working less than 30 hours a week.
The draft also outlines scores of other changes to Australia’s welfare system including various incentives for employers. Businesses who hire a job seeker after their first period of Work for the Dole will be eligible to receive a wage subsidy of up to $6,500.
A press release from the Minister for Employment Eric Abetz said the changes would include new targets for Indigenous employment.
Labor has expressed concerns about the Work for the Dole changes while Greens Senator Rachel Siewert blasted the program in a press release.
“This announcement is all about punishing people. If jobs aren’t available, it is a nonsense to say people have to apply for at least a job a day,” Siewert said.
“The Government should be investing in job services and lifting the inadequate rates of Newstart and Youth Allowance by $50 per week so that job seekers are actually supported and helped back into the workforce, rather than being left in poverty.”
Welfare groups have long argued the rate of Newstart is so low that it keeps people too poor to move back into the workforce.
Groups such as ACOSS and the Welfare Rights Centre expressed strong concerns in June after an interim version of the McClure report recommended moving thousands of Australians off the Disability Support Pension and broadening the practice of welfare quarantining.
The current exposure draft is calling for submissions and will continue a process of community consultation until 25 August.
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