On Tuesday, the Australian Government announced their 2017-2018 Federal Budget. Typically, it signifies tax hikes on areas like education that need all the help they can get. It highlights how out of touch the government is with its people.
Tackling the whole budget in this video would melt everyone’s brains, so in this episode of Curiosity Killed The Journalist we are going to explore the government’s new approach to welfare.
In Australia, it was recorded in March this year, by Trading Economics, that unemployment sat at 5.9%. Whilst 60,900 jobs were created, unemployment rose by 4000 jobs.
The Conversation recorded that in June 2013, 5.1 million Australians receive some kind of welfare payment. Almost half – 2.4 million – receive either Age or Veteran Affairs payments. Around 821,000 receive disability support and 660,000 get Newstart. The rest were on Youth Allowance, Parenting Payments or Carer’s Payment.
This doesn’t include the 1.7 million families who receive family tax benefit or the 930,000 families who receive childcare assistance.
These are people who need that little bit of extra help. It doesn’t mean that they don’t work hard or that they’re bludgers – it just means that they weren’t dealt the same hand as everyone else.
As a country built on the idea of having a fair go, this is vital.
The 2017 Budget has brought some interesting policy management when it comes to welfare.
One of the most controversial is the trial of drug testing 5000 new welfare payment receivers. According to the SBS, the first fail would result in being placed on cashless welfare cards, which would restrict people from buying drugs or alcohol. A second failed drug test would result in being referred to a doctor for treatment.
Under the new drug intolerance scheme, drug or alcohol abusers will no longer be able to receive exemptions from mutual requirements – meaning that if they don’t show up to a job interview because they were on a bender, they wont be able to escape the consequences. This means that 11,000 exemptions will no longer be granted a year.
Drug and alcohol abusers will also no longer be able to qualify for disability support based solely on the fact that are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
This got some interesting reactions from social service groups, politicians and the public.
Senator Jacqui Lambie, who is an advocate for drug rehabilitation for ice users, says that if the government is so keen on drug testing for welfare recipients, they should lead by example.
“It is about time politicians led by example and both the Senate and the House of Reps, there should be random drug testing as you come through those doors,” she said according to the ABC.
Nick McKim, Greens Senator for Tasmania, said that drug-testing people who cant find a job “paternalistic, demeaning bullshit.”
However, the Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, defended his government’s proposal. He said, “If I go to work and I can’t go to work drunk or under the influence of drugs, neither can you … you should present yourself in a capacity you are ready to go to work. We want to make sure you get yourself in a position where you can get work and can get help if you need it.”
According to Uma Patel, ABC political journalist, the PM said this:
Yes, we want our workforce to be at the best of their ability. No, we don’t want them getting jobs and having more access to drugs and alcohol because they have more cash flow. But the aim of the game should be to help these people, not punish them. Don’t cut their payments – instead there should be education and rehabilitation. Drug abuse is a serious problem, but as New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties President Stephen Blanks points out, there are drug users in all classes of society.
So, why aren’t we targeting everyone? Bank CEOs who deal with our money shouldn’t be high. Politicians who decide whether we go to war shouldn’t be high. Neither should those in the hospitality or retail industries, or those who build our infrastructure.
If those on welfare have to submit to random drug testing, why shouldn’t everyone?
The drug tests will start from January 2018 and be conducted at three to be disclosed locations. It will target those receiving Newstart and Youth Allowance, testing for cannabis, ecstasy and methamphetamines.
It isn’t the only new condition that welfare recipients will be receiving. Now, there will be one working age pension that will cover seven previous pensions, which includes; Newstart, sick payment, bereavement allowance, wife pension, partner allowance, Widow B pension and widow allowance.
Jobseekers will now have to up their game as well. Now, 270,000 people aged 30-49 will now have to look for 50 hours of work a fortnight, which is 20 more than currently. Those aged between 55-59 are no longer allowed to use volunteering to make up their 30 hours of work in order to meet their allowance needs and those over the age of 60 must do 10 hours of work, but are allowed to use volunteering.
A tough three strikes rule will also be put in place, according to the Budget. It will target those who continuously fail to meet their mutual obligations. These obligations could be failing to turn up to appointments or job interviews, but still receiving their benefits.
Now, over a six month period, job seekers will accure demerit points for failing to meet these obligations. Once they hit four demerit points, they will be assessed on whether they need more help, or if they need to go on the three strikes program. Under this, they could lose half of their welfare payment. If they fail a second time – all of their welfare will be lost. And a third fail will see their benefits cancelled entirely, forcing them to wait a month before they’re eligible to apply for Newstart again.
Screenshot from Budget Papers 2, page 91
Welfare will also be suspended for a month if a job seeker refuses a job without a proper reason and those who sign a form falsely declaring another person as a single parent could face jail time.
These new initiatives by the Government are intended to save $632 million when it comes to welfare. The government is projected to spend $164 billion in social security and welfare over 2017 and 2018. This will rise to $178 billion in 2018 to 2019, rising further ever year until it hits $191 billion in 2020 and 2021. This rise, according to the government, is due to the National Disability Insurance scheme being fully funded.
The government’s overall aim, according to them, is, “The Government is also strengthening participation requirements for welfare recipients to better drive participation outcomes. These will be coupled with a new targeted Job Seeker Compliance Framework that will apply stronger financial penalties to persistently non-compliant job seekers, whilst ensuring genuinely disadvantaged and vulnerable job seekers are supported.”
EDIT: The Federal Budget will also introduce longer waiting periods for those who apply for welfare, but have savings. Single people with $12,000 and couples or singles with dependants with $24,000 in savings will see an increase in waiting periods. Those with $18,000 could be forced to wait up to 26 weeks.
However, this may not get the support from the Senate, as Labour and the Greens aren’t sure they want to impose these measures on someone who suddenly loses their job.