Storm gathers over benefits stoppages

Commenting on reports that unemployed people are having their benefits withheld for weeks because of Centrelink staff shortages, Catholic Social Services chief Frank Quinlan says that the government should dump its breaching policy if it cannot be implemented fairly without delays.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that unemployed people are having their benefits put on hold for weeks while Centrelink staff said to be overworked try to determine whether they should impose an eight-week no-payment penalty.

Delays of four weeks are common during which unemployed people, accused of breaching rules, cannot get paid and have no right of appeal, the paper says.

They also cannot be referred to a financial case manager even in cases of extreme hardship, so that essential bills can be paid.

Almost 9,000 people have lost payment for eight weeks for breaching job participation rules since the new welfare to work rules came in last July. It is believed only 500 have been referred to financial case managers.

Mr Quinlan, executive director of Catholic Social Services Australia, condemned the policy yesterday. "If you have a policy that cannot be implemented fairly without delays, it should not be implemented at all."

He predicted a "gathering storm" with the inclusion from 1 July of 221,000 single parents into the regime.

A Centrelink spokeswoman said: "We've fixed the problem; the team is getting adequately resourced, and even with sole parents coming on, we're well-resourced."

In another story, the Herald reports that up to 80,000 people will be required to join full time work-for-the-dole programs or lose their welfare payments because the Federal Government believes there has never been a better time for people to find jobs.

From today, people who have been unemployed for two years or more will have to work for 25 hours a week on programs such as tree planting or building maintenance for 10 months of the year as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits.

The Minister for Workforce Participation, Sharman Stone, said yesterday it was "unacceptable that in this once-in-a-generation labour market, there are still around 80,000 Australians who have been out of work for over two years".

But welfare groups have been critical of the Federal Government's tightening of the welfare system, which began two years ago when it introduced tough work requirements for single parents and people with disabilities.

Mr Quinlan said the new requirement for the long-term unemployed would mean they had less time to look for work, do training programs and travel to interviews.

"You want people to be getting skills and education and training because that's why they aren't in work. Condemning people to full-time work for the dole is not an answer to the longer term issues of getting the skills people need. There are some good programs but some people are pushed into dead ends," he said.

Benefits put on hold for weeks (Sydney Morning Herald, 18/6/07)
Job market never better, so 80,000 to work for dole (Sydney Morning Herald, 17/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Social Services Australia

Catholic agencies hit back at Govt over welfare-to-work (CathNews, 24/8/06)
Catholic Social Services challenges Labor on commitment to poor (CathNews, 22/8/06)
Triple whammy for low income households: CSSA (CathNews 3/8/06)
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)
Vinnies says "no" to Govt money (CathNews 6/4/06)
Church groups pessimistic about welfare overhaul (CathNews 21/11/05)

18 Jun 2007