Lessons not learned; needs not met
Statement to the social security participation requirements senate inquiry hearing
The Antipoverty Centre is contributing to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee inquiry into the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Streamlined Participation Requirements and Other Measures) Bill 2021.
Below is the video of our evidence and a transcript of opening remarks delivered by the AC at the inquiry hearing held on Friday 11 June 2021. You can access our submission to the inquiry on the parliament house website and view our statement in response to the inquiry report, which was handed down on 18 June 2021.
“‘Rushed’ welfare payments overhaul will cost JobSeeker recipients up to $457”, The New Daily, 12 June 2021
“Jobseeker rights at risk under ‘sham’ mutual obligation rule change”, The Guardian, 18 June 2021
“Morrison government plan to rip millions from job-seekers in social security overhaul clears Senate Committee“, The New Daily, 19 June 2021
Jay Coonan, research and policy at the Antipoverty Centre
I am addressing you from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. These lands were never ceded, and I pay respect to the Elders; past, present and emerging. I would also like to acknowledge the Peoples on whose land you stand today.
Even a cursory reading of the submissions for this inquiry would give committee members a clear understanding that much more work needs to be done to gain the confidence of people subjected to participation requirements. Every submission says the response time is inadequate and inappropriate. That is a damning assessment. We are pleading for more time.
Calls to make employment services less punitive and more helpful have been called for a long time now and government after government has kicked the can down the road, tightening the screws on us but never responding to community needs. Now the government has decided to finally act, but has responded to pressure from civil society by only paying lip service to our demands.
This bill does not make employment services fair, nor does it make them equitable. It is a tool in the government’s post-COVID shock doctrine.
It is designed to create the perception that the system is being overhauled while continuing the same practices of existing draconian programs, to transfer huge sums to unethical private providers and to deter people who need and are entitled to support from accessing the so-called safety net. This is a blatant ideological push from people who believe in individualising the social problems they create. Again, the government flaunts the fact that you only care about what is best for your political ends, not what is best for the millions of us who have little control over our far different economic and social circumstances. Instead of using this to build people up, you’re using it to cut us down.
The new points-based system is designed to look flexible but is confusing, and continues the failed, harmful system of ‘mutual’ obligations. There are still many of the features that prevent people from getting a sustainable job as they are stuck on the hamster wheel of government poverty performance indicators and under the boot of private unemployment cops.
When the government says people are ‘dependent on welfare’ they are using coded ‘dole bludger’ rhetoric that has been manufactured to keep a group of people on hand to kick when politicians need a football, and to justify starving those of us who rely on income support to live.
It is reprehensible that our so-called leaders are incapable of showing compassion, vision and creativity to work with people in the system to design something that cares for and supports us.
The way you’re ramming this bill through without proper scrutiny is not at all shocking. It’s just more evidence of the fact that you do not see our humanity or feel it is politically useful to treat us with dignity.
I’m going to share some statistics in a desperate hope they will mean something to you.
This bill reproduces and worsens the segregation of unemployed people. The latest government data shows that just 6% of people in Stream C found a permanent job – and those are not necessarily full-time jobs that pay enough to live on.
As Anglicare have highlighted in their submission, a recent survey they conducted found that 79% of people believe the activities they’re forced to do are pointless.
New research from the University of Newcastle and James Cook University has found that unemployed people subjected to ‘mutual’ obligations take longer to become re-employed and spend less time in employment compared to otherwise identical unemployed people.
The budget saving proposed in this legislation is yet another move from the political establishment to increase poverty and entrench inequality. It is depressing that after years and years of evidence provided by many organisations and individuals, the knee jerk response is to find savings in social security when the need is more urgent than ever. We have seen this in the Gillard government’s acceptance of Howard’s decision to cut support to parents, we have seen this in constant refusals to raise social security payments above the poverty line. To the major political parties and the cruel minority on the crossbench who support their agenda, increasing poverty seems to be a positive – it is truly vile.
It’s upsetting to be here again, but what else can we do? We have to show up and tell you time and time again what we see, what we know, try and make you listen to those largely overlooked and unheard and in the desperate hope that something will change for the better. My colleague Kristin would also like to make a brief statement before we answer questions.
Kristin O’Connell, research and policy at the Antipoverty Centre
Thank you. I live and work on the unceded lands of the Gadigal people. I pay respect to Gadigal Elders past and present, and to Elders across this continent.
As stated in our submission we categorically reject this bill and call upon the committee to do the right thing. Before making sweeping changes to this crucial legislation, that governs millions of people’s lives, you must give us and yourselves adequate time to conduct a full inquiry.
And of course, we again ask the government to uphold our rights, to meet our basic needs, by lifting social security payments above the Henderson poverty line.
The information we have about the government’s plan for employment services suggests that if these rules were already in place there would be around 880,000 people in “enhanced services” today, basically subjected to the same harmful requirements, the same harmful job agencies, who will continue to take billions of dollars of public money to brutalise people. NESA either fails to understand this, is crying wolf, or has more information than we do.
The extraordinary size of such a caseload exposes just how pointless it is to categorise people by impersonal “employability” attributes. People must be given the support they want, not forced into activities they don’t need and that waste precious time and energy. Increased reliance on digital services and changes to backdating will discriminate and disadvantage many.
The bill makes much of existing protections for unemployed people but these are a total failure.
People are being coerced into taking unsuitable work due to perverse financial incentives for providers that will remain. And now we have a new ‘DobSeeker’ line to bludgeon people even more. We welcome the ability for people in digital services to take their complaints to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or a court, but the bill does not go anywhere near far enough to offer protection, and again divides people by failing to offer the same pathway to people in ‘enhanced services’. We need an independent ombudsman to prevent the unemployment cops policing themselves.
Recently we have seen the government make a range of choices.
They chose to lift millions of people who rely on income support out of poverty. Six months later they chose to throw them back into poverty. They chose to give people freedom from ‘mutual’ obligations, giving them the space to look for sustainable job. They chose to bring back failing and costly programs that hurt people. They are literally planning to have a level of unemployment that will keep hundreds of thousands of people trapped in this brutal system. And they choose to demonise us to justify their decisions.
The average time people on JobSeeker have been receiving a payment is now more than 4 years. At least one in five already have a paid job. One in four are over 55 and face severe age discrimination. One in three have partial capacity to work. There are more than 250,000 disabled people on the JobSeeker payment because, as I know from personal experience, getting access to the DSP is near on impossible due to bureaucratic rules that are designed to keep us out. These are choices.
The committee will not be surprised to hear that we feel as much disdain for this process and proposal as the government feels for us. Take your responsibilities seriously and work with us to fix this broken system.
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