Vinnies against charities' welfare windfall

St Vincent de Paul spokesman John Falzon said that his organisation would oppose an "immoral breaching regime" in which charities would be paid $650 to look after people kicked off welfare payments for two months.

The Australian reports that Centrelink has asked charities to apply to take over the case management of each "extreme vulnerable" person who lose payments under welfare rules beginning in July.

The charities will advise Centrelink what things must be paid for to keep those people - mainly single mothers - out of extreme poverty. This is likely to include money for rent, gas and mortgages, up to the maximum amount they would have received in welfare.

The National Welfare Rights Network estimates that about 4000 people will qualify as "extremely vulnerable" - about one in four of those expected to breach the rules in the first year of the new compliance system.

Salvation Army communications director Brad Halse said yesterday that his organisation was likely to apply to run the services but would do the work regardless of whether they were paid. "Even if the Government wasn't willing to pay us, people would come to Salvation Army and seek assistance," he said.

"Our brief would be about financial case management, so it's hard to say whether $650 is a reasonable amount - we have no idea how that sum was arrived at."

The plan has outraged the welfare sector, which believes Centrelink's job is to case-manage those breached.

Michael Raper, president of the National Welfare Rights Network, said up to $2.6million could be spent on paying for case management services.

"When you add to this a whole new layer of Centrelink bureaucracy, and the hardship that this measure will cause, it's clear that it would be cheaper and more sensible not to proceed with the ridiculous eight-week non-payment policy," he said.

Mr Raper said he had misgivings about the scheme because not-for-profit Job Network operators that recommend Centrelink suspend a person's payment could be running the same outfits that bid for the $650 to manage the person.

He also criticised the Government's demand that those eligible for case management be not just "vulnerable" but "extremely vulnerable" as a measure of "just how out of touch and extreme" the policy was.

A Centrelink spokesman defended the new rule as "an appropriate use of taxpayer money".

Charities facing welfare windfall (The Australian 21/3/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
St Vincent de Paul Society
National Welfare Rights Network

21 Mar 2006