On 28 October, 2014 the St Vincent de Paul Society made a submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee’s Inquiry into the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Job Seeker Compliance Framework) Bill 2014.
The Bill seeks to suspend payments for jobseekers who do not attend an appointment with Centrelink. Their payments will not resume until they attend an appointment, at which point they would receive any back pay accrued. This measure will become stricter from 1 July 2015, as back payments will no longer be made if the jobseeker does not provide a reasonable excuse for missing their appointment. Under the Bill, the Social Security Act 1991 will also be amended. The Act currently allows welfare recipients aged 55 or older to participate in part-time voluntary and/or paid work as a way of meeting their mutual obligation requirements. Under the Bill, over-55s will be treated like other jobseekers, and required to look for work in order to satisfy mutual obligation requirements. The penalty amount will be 1.4 times the value of the payment that the person would have received on those days (Item 24).
We believe that This Bill is not supported by evidence, logic, or law. The Bill cites no evidence that its measures will actually help anyone to get into work. In fact, it goes against all the evidence that low payments are already a barrier to paid work. Moreover, in an environment where there is only one job for every ten people seeking work, it is completely illogical to believe that cutting income from those who are the most marginalised will somehow enable them to be more competitive with the nine other people who are not as disadvantaged who are applying for that job. Finally, the Bill threatens violating Australian citizens’ inalienable right to social security, and a decent standard of living.
Outcome of the Inquiry
The Education and Employment Legislation Committee tabled its report on November 24, 2014. The St Vincent de Paul Society is disappointed with the majority report’s decision to recommend that the Bill be passed. We believe the Bill incorrectly blames jobseekers for their lack of employment, and is based on the flawed logic that taking money away from the already vulnerable will somehow empower them to find work. Moreover, despite quoting the Society’s arguments that older workers face significant disadvantage and discrimination, the Committee nevertheless decided to make them subject to the same tests as younger workers.
The dissenting reports were both very concerned with the removal of appeal rights, as was the St Vincent de Paul Society. They pointed out the fact that the Bill will disproportionately affect certain disadvantaged groups, and that neither the Bill nor the hearings provided clarity as to whether the legislation would actually help more people get jobs.
The Society believes that Australia needs a Jobs Plan, which will address the challenge of creating the types of jobs we need into the future for inclusive economic and social progress (see, for example, VCOSS’s example: http://vcoss.org.au/documents/2014/11/Tackling-unemployment.pdf). We must empower people to fulfil their desires and their destinies, by increasing, not decreasing, the support that we give to the people who need it most. This is the only practical pathway to building a society that is fair, equal, respectful and inclusive.