Changes stigmatise welfare recipients: Catholic Social Services

Radical changes to family assistance payment proposed by Federal Family and Community Services Minister Mal Brough will result in the "effective stigmatisation of welfare recipients", Catholic Social Services Australia chief, Frank Quinlan says.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that parents will have up to half their welfare and family benefit payments withheld if they are deemed to be neglecting their children's basic needs such as food and school attendance.

But Mr Quinlan says that "it seems fair to suggest child protection should be available to all children, not just those of welfare recipients".

Mr Brough (pictured) will take the proposed radical changes to the way family assistance payments are made to cabinet next week.

All people living on indigenous land in the Northern Territory will be subject to the changes, but the Prime Minister, John Howard, said yesterday he wanted to "apply the same principle to the broader Australian community".

Mr Brough has been working on the changes for nearly two years but has now been given the opportunity to get them approved in the wake of the Federal Government's attempts to cope with child abuse in remote indigenous communities.

The withholding of a portion of payments will apply to family tax benefits as well as to welfare payments such as unemployment and sole parenting payments.

Mr Brough has said previously the withheld amount would be 40 per cent of the payment received by a parent and would be taken to pay for essentials such as food, medical expenses and bills.

It is designed to stop people using government money to fund alcohol, drug problems or gambling. It is also an attempt to give the Government a means of persuasion to use on parents who fail to send their children to school.

People can already volunteer to have Centrelink deduct some of their welfare payments for rent and bills. Federal Parliament is likely to be recalled during the winter break to pass the legislation, which could allow the changes to come into place later this year.

Welfare groups are wary about the approach, saying punishing parents will not necessarily solve addiction to drugs and alcohol.

"We should be using existing services such as police and schools and child protection services rather than putting the responsibility onto individuals who might not be able to take on that responsibility," Mr Quinlan told the Herald.

"It seems ironic that there are many social services already providing support to people which are struggling for funding.

"We know community support works, we know drug and alcohol programs and assisted employment works, but we aren't seeing extra funding for those," he said.

Threat to withold benefits from parents (Sydney Morning Herald, 22/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Mal Brough (Wikipedia)
Family and Community Services
Catholic Social Services Australia

22 Jun 2007