Job Seekers not given a fair go

The federal government has announced the single largest increase in the Job Seeker payment, colloquially known as the dole, since the mid-1980s. Seemingly a significant achievement.

Unfortunately, it is the only real increase in this payment since the mid-1990s.

For over 25 years the unemployment benefit payment has only risen by the rate of inflation, meaning any increase only accounted for a rise in the cost of living.

Conversely, other benefit payments such as the aged pension, increased by the rate of wage growth. Meaning, the recipients of those benefits ‘kept up’ with the financial standards of the community at large.

The recent announcement gives Job Seeker recipients $50 per fortnight extra and raises their payment to $620.80 per fortnight or $16,140.80 per year.

To give this some context the average wage for a full-time employee in Australia is $89,000 per annum while the minimum wage is $39,000. The poverty line in Australia is set at $23,764.

The largest increase in the unemployment payment since the 1980s is not only manifestly inadequate but due to new conditions attached to the payments, it is also patently unfair.

Most of us will have at some stage gone through the process of finding a new job. Searching through job ads, deciding which jobs suit us, developing appropriate resumes and letters, and sending them off as an application.

If you’re then lucky enough to get through that stage of the application process, there is the nerve-racking exercise of preparing for interviews and then attending them and selling yourself.

We all know that applying for jobs can become all-consuming, stressful, and exhausting.

To remain eligible for the Job Seeker payment, a recipient will now have to apply for 20 jobs per month.

The thought of having to go through a full or even part job application process 20 times per month is inconceivable. Particularly when you consider that for many the stakes are so high.

For many, success in finding meaningful employment will mean they have been able to drag themselves out of destitution and above the poverty line.

In addition to the mandated number of applications, there are now greater requirements for job seekers to attend meetings with their employment service providers as well as the ability for employers to ‘dob in’ any job seeker that refuses to accept a job that is offered.

The Job Seeker payment is supposed to provide a safety net and assist people to get back on their feet.

However, these conditions that accompany a miserably low payment that is 32% below the poverty line, are unfair and punitive.

Through our work in the G21 Region Opportunities for Work (GROW) program over the last five years, the Give Where You Live Foundation has seen first-hand that there is a myriad of obstacles and barriers to people gaining employment.

Many job seekers we have encountered want, and need, to work. To depict job seekers, even by implication, as lazy and unmotivated is wrong, bigoted, and lacks empathy.

What if we were to apply similar generalisations to company CEOs, sports stars, and federal politicians?

Should we label all of them racist because some of them are? Should we label them all sexist because some of them are? Should we say that all of them have contributed to an unsafe and toxic workplace because some of them have?

This would clearly be unfair and wrong. But no less wrong than inferring that all job seekers are ‘dole bludgers’ and we, therefore, should design our policies around this premise.

In our experience through GROW, long-term job seekers have many legitimate obstacles to gaining employment. Mental health challenges, care duties for family members, employer and community bias because of where they live, how they look, or how they speak.

Jobseekers also face considerable anxiety and chaos that are a result of a lack of financial security. They are often worried about paying utility bills, paying rent, and being able to buy enough food.

A lack of surety about these basic human needs is overwhelming, stressful, and can be completely debilitating.

The Give Where You Live Foundation has been a part of the ACOSS Raise the Rate for Good campaign, aimed at increasing the rate of the Job Seeker payment.
While an increase has been secured it is not enough.

The Job Seeker payment and associated conditions consign millions of Australians to life below the poverty line. It doesn’t act as a ‘safety net’ and does little to truly help people to gain the dignity, safety, and security of ongoing, quality employment.

We were once, ‘all in this together’, it now seems we have a lot more work to do.

Bill Mithen is the Chief Executive of the Give Where You Live Foundation