Catholic Welfare stands up for long-term unemployed

Catholic Welfare Australia has joined a consortium of welfare groups that are opposing the Federal Government's plans to punish so-called "dolebludgers" with harsher penalties.

The Australian reports that Catholic Welfare Australia, Uniting Care, Anglicare and the Salvation Army, who together hold 20% of Job Network services, have formed an alliance to oppose the changes to be unveiled in next month's federal budget.

The Government plans to force jobless thought to be deliberately avoiding getting a job into working for the dole for long periods. The Government also plans to give Job Network agencies the power to strip unemployed people of their welfare payments.

But Catholic Welfare Australia executive director Frank Quinlan said very few job seekers deliberately defraud the system.

"For the most disadvantaged job seekers, services that engage them over time and build their capacity to participate in job search activities are much more effective than penalties," he said. "It is not just a moral argument, it's an economic one -- it's about better outcomes."

He told the ABC's World Today program that putting out stories about so-called dole cheats "really diminishes people who are struggling in very difficult circumstances to achieve better security and employment".

Michael Raper, who heads the National Welfare Rights Network says talk of as many as 25,000 long term unemployed people avoiding their obligation to find work is wrong.

"I would concede that there would be a small percentage of people, who after three or four years of long-term unemployment, looking for 10 jobs a fortnight, would have a motivation problem - being knocked back fortnight after fortnight. But it's a very small percentage," he said.

Treasurer Peter Costello defended the new welfare rules.

"There are some people who are receiving unemployment benefits and not presenting at interviews. Receiving unemployment benefits is a two-way street," he said. "A society helps a person, that person undertakes to look for work, and we've got to encourage them to meet that work search requirement.

"I don't think it's a question of the big stick. I think it's a question of mutual obligation, encouraging people to recognise that society has an obligation to them, they have an obligation to society," he said.

Workforce Participation Minister Peter Dutton said tougher measures are needed to catch dole cheats.

"It's support from the taxpayer through a difficult time in somebody's life, but it is not a way of life because you don't want to find a job or you don't want to engage in work," he said.

Australian Council of Social Service President Andrew McCallum said more penalties in the system will simply mean that agencies will spend more time activity testing and administering punishments than actually getting people ready for work.

Proposed changes to the welfare system include increasing the number of hours people are required to participate in Work for the Dole per year.

Mr McCallum said: "There is no real evidence that Work for the Dole actually gives people the skills and experience they need to be ready to join the workforce. It is activity for the sake of it. Under these proposals, people could be forced to work for as little as $8 an hour (2/3rds of the minimum wage). Activities jobseekers are required to do should give them skills and experience that will be useful to employers and so get people real jobs."

Agencies insist: there are no 'shirkers' (The Australian 30/4/05)
Jobseekers need skills not punishments, says ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Service 29/4/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Welfare Australia
Job Network
Australian Council of Social Service
National Welfare Rights Network | More punishment for disadvantaged job seekers not the answer
Centacare Employment

Centacare Employment achieves outstanding results (CathNews 4/5/04)

New rules for unemployed could destroy current system (ABC Radio PM 1/5/05)
Govt devises tough penalties for long term unemployed (ABC Radio The World Today 1/5/05)
Dole cheat crackdown will fail: welfare groups (ABC 29/4/05)

2 May 2005