McClure Report – an unworkable response to welfare reform

basics cardThe Federal Government’s latest attempt at changing the welfare system comes in the form of a new report authored by ex-head of Mission Australia Patrick McClure.  This report represents another attempt by the Abbott Government to seek expenditure savings in all the wrong places. Once again, the most disadvantaged will be asked to pay for the Government’s inability to create a sustainable revenue income. Since the late 90s the proportion of the population accessing welfare payments has reduced by one third.

Although the report acknowledges that welfare recipients often have intersecting disadvantages such as disability, carer/parenting responsibilities, age, language/cultural background, the call for a simpler welfare system appears to be at odds with the reality of disadvantage.

The report focuses on the necessity to move people off welfare payments and into the workforce, emphasising the many benefits of employment. However, the individualistic tone of the report, which essentially, blames individuals for not being able to secure employment, is highly problematic. Whilst it outlines the wider social issues, including the need for training and education and the discriminatory attitudes of many employers, it ultimately punishes the individual and offers no tangible solution to these outlined social barriers. These punishments are embodied by the proposed cuts to welfare, pushing already vulnerable people into an even more precarious financial position.

If this government was serious about wanting to help disadvantaged people, we would be seeing increased spending on public education; not increased privatisation and loss of funding to public education institutions. The report focuses on the need for education and training without acknowledging this essential fact. This encapsulates the real contradiction of the report, and leaves me doubtful of its supposedly helpful intentions. It masquerades behind a ‘self-empowering’ rhetoric (to allow people to help themselves through securing employment), without properly addressing the real social barriers that people face. Ultimately, the blame will fall on welfare recipients, and they will be the ones to suffer.

Young people, who are already to be bumped off Newstart payments for 6 months, are being considered for an expansion of income management measures. This paternalistic approach is evidence of an ongoing misconception that welfare recipients squander their meagre income.

Further, people with disabilities will undergo further screening measures, enforcing those who are deemed capable, to enter the labour market. Whilst mentioning the problem of ‘employer attitudes’, again, the report falls short in offering any real solution to the discrimination that people with disabilities face, to accessing employment and fair treatment.

These are only some examples of the report’s shortcomings. Ultimately, this report amounts to little more than a threat, by taking away the bare minimum that the Government gives, and leaving the most marginalised members of our society without much needed support.

My office has produced a submission on the McClure Report which I hope to make publicly available shortly.

Not content to wait until the report is finalised, the Abbott Government has also been busy floating its own additional ideas on how they can punish the jobless. This week Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker has revealed plans to beef up the failed work for the dole program by forcing the unemployed people to apply for 40 jobs per month in addition to 25 hours of community service. That is two job applications every weekday in addition to community service.

Again the Abbott Government has demonstrated its distain for the unemployed. These increased compliance measures leave job seekers, who are forced to take any job they are offered, open to exploitation. Moreover those jobseekers in rural communities will struggle to find 40 jobs to apply for in their area.

Our long-term unemployed have no hope of recovery whilst those in power cling to their elitist beliefs that unemployed people are undeserving of support. Until they acknowledge the limitations of the job market and provide genuine support to assist people in returning to work we will get nowhere.

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