SURVEY: 93% of welfare recipients say “mutual” obligations harm mental and physical health
Employment services must be on the agenda as Labor National Conference discusses "An economy that works for everyone"
A new report from the Antipoverty Centre and GetUp shows “mutual” obligations – the system of welfare compliance managed by privatised employment service providers at a cost of $4 billion a year – cause mental ill health, do not help welfare recipients find work and push people into further financial hardship.
Included below: comments from the Antipoverty Centre, GetUp, Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union and Single Mother Families Australia; link to survey; crisis line contact information.
The first major agenda item at this week’s Labor National Conference is An economy that works for everyone, but millions of people left behind in the current economic climate are excluded from the conversation about our future.
“We surveyed 600 welfare recipients to ask them directly what they need. Ninety seven percent of respondents said ‘mutual’ obligations are not useful. Ninety three percent told us mutual obligations harm their mental or physical health,” said welfare recipient and report co-author Jay Coonan from the Antipoverty Centre.
“Eighty-five percent of respondents said a job agency had made a mistake or done something that caused a problem with their payment.
“This is a system that punishes us for being poor. “Mutual” obligations exist to deter people from accessing welfare, not to help us find a suitable job. The Albanese government, like the Morrison government before it, traps people in poverty by making “mutual” obligations a requirement to access below-poverty-line income support.
“The public is out of pocket $4 billion a year while (un)employment providers make millions in profits rorting the system. It’s an open secret that it fails us. It’s time for Labor to back up its words with action.
“In the seven months after Workforce Australia launched, providers reported a paltry six-month work or study outcome of less than 1 percent of the 500,000-person caseload.
“It is possible to design a system that responds to what people want, treats us with dignity and respect, and provides the training that will actually help with getting a sustainable job.
“There is no version of “mutual” obligations that isn't degrading. There is no version of “mutual” obligations that isn't intrusive. There is no version of “mutual” obligations that isn't controlling.
“The welfare system is killing people. Scrapping “mutual” obligations is long overdue. The government must abolish penalties then work with unemployed advocates to create a safe and genuinely supportive employment service.
“Only 2.3 percent of employed people we surveyed found a job with the help of an employment services provider. We need to scrap “mutual” obligations and design a public employment service that helps people find safe, secure and sustainable jobs,” said Jay Coonan.
Chido Dunn, Campaign Director at GetUp, said:
“The findings of this report clearly demonstrate the devastating harm caused when vital social programs like employment services are outsourced to private companies who care much more about profit than they do about people.
“The Albanese government knows that the current system is broken and that it needs to change. This means we have a real opportunity to push Labor to enact ambitious reforms. It’s gone on for too long, and the Australian public wants to see an end to the waste and the cruelty.”
Jeremy Heywood, President of the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, said:
“Volunteer and underfunded advocacy groups like the Antipoverty Centre and the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union spend thousands of hours each year supporting our communities to defend their rights and dignity, and writing beautifully detailed and comprehensive reports telling the government the same simple truths: mutual obligations are a punitive system built on flawed and cruel ideology.
“We are committed to repeating ourselves with newer and more damning data for as long as it takes decision makers to acknowledge this reality and put a stop to this human misery machine.”
Terese Edwards, CEO of Single Mother Families Australia, said:
“People locked out of the workforce, cycling in and out of paid work, or underemployed would benefit from a radical overhaul of Workforce Australia. A superior approach would be abolishing mutual obligations and enabling job search support for all people seeking employment.
“Removing the punitive and onerous demands would produce savings that could be reinvested into an enhanced participation fund for social security claimants. Creating a new model that is community-led, responsive to local workforce needs and well-placed to meet the aspirations of each community.”
Welfare recipients quoted in the report are available for interview. Media contact: 0413 261 362 / media at antipovertycentre.org
Do you have “mutual” obligations?
This research is ongoing. If you have been required to do activities to receive a welfare payment, you can contribute to this project by completing the survey here.
Crisis support and counselling services
If you need support you can seek guidance, counselling or crisis help from the below organisations or talk to someone you trust.
Suicide Call Back Service – general: 1300 659 467
SANE Australia – general: 1800 187 263
13YARN – for First Nations people: 13 92 76
National Counselling and Referral Service – for disabled people: 1800 421 468
Headspace – for young people: 1800 650 890
QLife – fo LGBTQIA+ people: 1800 184 527
Full Stop – for people who have experienced sexual harassment and assault: 1800 385 578
Embrace Mental Health – multilingual service: embracementalhealth.org.au
MensLine – for men: 1300 789 978
Brother to Brother – for First Nations men: 1800 435 799
About the Antipoverty Centre
The Antipoverty Centre was established in 2021 by people living on Centrelink payments to counter problems with academics, think tanks and others in the political class making harmful decisions on behalf of people they purport to represent.
We have deep expertise in poverty, disadvantage and unemployment, because we live it. Our goal is to help ensure the voices and rights of people living in poverty are at the centre of social policy development and discourse. We believe there should be no decision made about us without us.
The Antipoverty Centre is not aligned with any political party and does not accept funding that places political constraints on our work.