Catholic Social Services quits Govt's "immoral" program

Catholic Social Services has recommended that its 60 member bodies not participate in the Government's new welfare-to-work program for people whose welfare payments have been cut off, saying the program is contrary Catholic social teaching.

"We think it's an unduly harsh system and we don't want to be confused as administrators and policemen of the program," Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) Director Mr Frank Quinlan told the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday.

The newspaper reports that it has obtained a confidential paper distributed to the 60 Centacare organisations, made the recommendation because "Catholic social teaching specifically calls for those who are outside the paid workforce to be guaranteed a subsistence level of income."

The new system "undermines the right to life and subsistence because a high proportion of those who have had their payments suspended for eight weeks are unable to meet basic needs," the paper said.

Other church organisations, including the Salvation Army and the St Vincent de Paul Society, have also rejected the program.

The spokesman for the St Vincent de Paul Society, Dr John Falzon, told the ABC this morning that instead of offering dignity to vulnerable people, the welfare-to-work program would actually take away hope.

The Government faced criticism from welfare groups, churches, the Opposition and some of its own members over the changes, which have affected people applying for disability and sole parent payments since 1 July.

People with disabilities deemed capable of working 15 hours a week and parents with school-age children get lower payments unless they find jobs.

Those who refuse work considered suitable by Centrelink have their payments cut off for eight weeks.

CSSA will refer clients to Centrelink or other organisations contracted to run case management.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Human Services, Joe Hockey, accused the organisation of "using this to make a political statement against the welfare-to-work changes."

"It is extremely disappointing that they have withdrawn from the program before even managing one case," she told the Herald.

However, Frank Quinlan told the ABC Investigative Unit that "we'd had assurances that vulnerable people were going to be protected from the system, and we just don't yet feel confident that that's going to be the case."

Catholics say no to welfare program (Sydney Morning Herald, 18/8/06)
Centacare pulls out of welfare to work scheme (ABC PM, 17/8/06) Charity withdraws from welfare-to-work scheme (ABC News, 17/8/06)
Charity shuns new work program (The Age 18/8/06)
Church's welfare-to-work pullout a stunt: Hockey (ABC 18/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Social Services Australia
St Vincent de Paul Society Australia

Low unemployment should pave way for training places: CSSA (CathNews, 14/7/06)
New welfare-to-work rules spell disaster: Catholic Social Services (CathNews, 3/7/06)
Catholic Social Services baulks at cooperation with harsh policy (CathNews, 7/6/06)
Catholic Social Services welcomes falling unemployment (CathNews 26/5/06)
Vinnies says "no" to Govt money (CathNews 6/4/06)
Church groups pessimistic about welfare overhaul (CathNews 21/11/05)

18 Aug 2006