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Vinnies says Govt welfare crackdown making jobseekers poorer

St Vincent de Paul's national research and policy officer has supported claims in a welfare bodies report that a crackdown on welfare recipients is widening the gap between rich and poor.

The report says the Government's employment agency Centrelink has doubled its rate of issuing penalties in the last year. It is based on information obtained through Freedom of Information by the Australian Council of Social Service and the National Welfare Rights Network, which describe the withdrawal of benefits as an issue of grave concern.

St Vincent de Paul's John Falzon told the ABC: "It is a harsh regime which punishes those who are unable to stand up for themselves. Rather than enabling them, they are being put down."

Dr Falzon accused Centrelink of breaching its obligations under the mutual obligation policy: "Part of mutual obligation is for government to exercise its obligation to care for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of its society."

He said that a change of heart on the part of Centrelink would make a difference to the level of poverty: "If rather than kicking someone while they're down, you offer them a helping hand to enable them to reach their potential, to give them opportunities, I think it is clearly the case that those people will have more of a chance of attaining some level of economic independence."

In its recent report on poverty, The Two Australias, the St Vincent de Paul Society recommended that the punishing of welfare recipients be confined to action against those seeking to defraud the government, and that criminal intent be the basic criteria.