March 29, 2011
THE global financial crisis has left a bitter legacy with the
number of people on welfare payments for more than a year rising to
its highest level in a decade and by more than 100,000 people since
In February, there were 356,375 people receiving Newstart
Allowance for more than a year - despite the falling rate in
overall unemployment and skills shortages in some industries. The
Centrelink data published by the Department of Education,
Employment and Workplace Relations shows a 42 per cent increase in
those on long term Newstart - a key welfare payment - since the
The chief executive of St Vincent de Paul Society's national
council, John Falzon, said the problems of long-term unemployment
were deep rooted. ''This data is really a good piece of evidence to
suggest that you don't address unemployment by blaming
individuals,'' he said.
''The whole phenomenon of the GFC [global financial crisis]
should have taught us as a nation that rather than blaming and
demonising individuals we should be looking at structural causes of
Mr Falzon said both the current Labor government and the
previous Coalition government had taken a harsh approach to the
long-term unemployed, with increasing compliance measures that were
akin to ''wielding a punitive stick on the back of those already
doing it tough''.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard last week rejected a backbench push
to soften tough new welfare measures that would see job-seekers
have their income temporarily stopped the first time they did not
attend a compulsory Job Services Australia interview.
Mr Falzon said there needed to be more focus on skills and
training for the long-term unemployed and more spending and better
targeting of job services. Mr Falzon said the Newstart Allowance
for singles, which is now about $234 a week, should be increased by
$50 a week.
The ACTU wants a $47.82-a-week rise, but Professor Ian Harper, a
former chairman of the minimum wage-setting Fair Pay Commission,
told The Age last month that there was a ''tension''
between setting the rate too low to live off and too high so there
would be little incentive to find work.
Mr Falzon said the current rate was too low to allow people to
attend to health and medical needs or to find decent clothing to
attend job interviews. He said rather than it being an incentive
for the unemployed to find work it left them in poverty and
''pushed out of mainstream society''.
The issue of people on long-term welfare will be an important
part today of the Australian Council of Social Service's annual
conference, held in Melbourne, with two separate sessions on
workforce participation. While more than 350,000 people are now
getting Newstart for more than a year it is still lower than
February 1994 when the number of recipients peaked at 472,785.