By Adam Carlton
The report in The Guardian (Luke Henriques-Gomes 21 October 2019), which reveals more people are unemployed for a long period of time is timely, and confirms what critics of the government’s policy have been saying all along.
This policy is not a means to properly solve the problem of unemployment with real jobs. It is designed to deliberately knock people off the books, to penalise, to fudge the figures, and to cut back on welfare spending.
It’s hard to argue around the stark reality that since 2014, the amount of time likely to spent on Newstart has gone up by 40 percent.
The Guardian focused on its own investigation of official data. This is the conclusion author reached.
“The Coalition government has presided over a staggering blowout in the number of extreme long-term Newstart recipients, with an analysis revealing unemployed people are languishing on the welfare payment for an average of nearly a year longer than they did in 2014.
“Despite the government’s claims Newstart is a “transition” payment and not a “wage replacement”, the analysis of income support data by Guardian Australia shows there is a fast-growing cohort who have been living on the historically low rate of the dole since Tony Abbott was prime minister.
“And as Scott Morrison bats away calls for a $75 a week increase to the dole because it fails to cover basic living costs and stops people getting into work, there is no indication the problem is likely to turn around: in all but one quarter since 2014, the average time a person spends on Newstart has increased.”
The author goes on to quote individuals who have had negative experiences in the system.
“ ‘I’m not surprised. I know how many people are applying for the jobs that I am applying for,’ said Nijole Naujokas, a welfare campaigner who has been on Newstart long term after being knocked back for a disability pension.
“If you want people to have the best chance of getting a job, you need to make sure they have had a full meal and have a roof over their head.”
“Among them is Nigel, who was made redundant from a retail job more than two years ago. About six months of Nigel’s time on Newstart has been spent fighting lymphoma. He is now in remission but felt his chances of getting back into the workforce were grim.
“ ‘I’m finding once people see a hole in your resume of even a few months and they ask why, and you tell them, they tend to shy off a bit,” he said. “They don’t want to take the risk of employing someone who’s been that sick and of you getting sick again.’ ”
These two examples bring the human face of a reality that is much more than churned out statistics. People are suffering. Having to live on around $280 a week guarantees poverty.
Since 2014 an extra 75,000 people who have either received Newstart for between five and 10 years or longer.
Although on paper short-term unemployment has fallen, this needs to be taken with some skepticism, given the big numbers that are routinely breached for little cause. Seventy-eight receivers of Newstart have this happen to them at least once.
Since when they are not being paid, they are off the count. This scale of breaching is going to have a significant impact on the real numbers. In other words, the official figures misrepresent the true amount.
The following graph from Roy Morgan represents its own research, which shows that the number of those out of work is much higher that officially stated. If the level of underemployment, the main area of new job creation, is included, total unemployment rises much higher, to just over 20 percent.
Scott Morrison’s argument that Newstart is not welfare but a transitional payment is in part a means to deflect. The part that is not, kind of admits that the policy is closely linked to the wider picture, and that it is about a re-organisation of the labour force.
In economist speak, this is about reducing the underultilisation of labour. In real life, it is about the creation of a cheap labour force to reduce the cost of labour in general.
And the only way to achieve this, is to force a section of the population into being in a desperate enough position to accept just about anything, in the expectation that this will pull down the position of all wage earners. They call it labour market reform.
The part that is a deflection, covers that people are unemployed because there are not enough jobs, and that unemployment is not an individual choice for the most part, but an outcome of how the economy is operating. If it is this, the fault is not with the unemployed, and the strategy to blame them cannot be rationalised – if it is admitted.
Something is seriously wrong with a government that only sees human beings as no more than a resource to be used, without regard to their humanity. One thing you can bet on, those making these decisions do not apply the same standard to themselves.
If we want ours to be a caring society, people must become more than a statistic. To care is compassion for others and giving each other a hand. If we want this to be a pillar of our society, the dismal way in which the unemployed are being treated must be stopped.
The campaign to increase Newstart by $75 is just and deserves support.
It is the least that can be done, and it does not more than lift some to mere survival status. No one is going to live in luxury on $365 week. But at least it may mean having a home, eating every day, and being in a better position to find work.