The Guardian April 5, 2000


Welfare replaced by exploitation

by Marcus Browning

Privatisation of the entire welfare system underpins plans announced last 
week by the Howard Government. The ultimate aim is to have just about 
everyone 16 years and over who receive a welfare payment of any kind  
from disabled pensioners to sole parents and the unemployed  forced into 
work-for-the-dole training and cheap labour schemes. At the same time 
welfare payments are to be restructured in a mainstreaming exercise that 
will result in payments being reduced.

The Government's approach, as outlined in a report released last week, is 
to present its draconian plan as caring for the individual while in 
practice demonising people on social security and unemployment payments as 
shiftless and lazy. All that is needed is for the Government to provide the 
cattle prod of coercion.

In the report the hype of the Government's "mutual obligation" is exposed 
once and for all as a one-way street for employers to exploit cheap labour 
and for the Government to cut welfare spending to the bone.

The three-part report says as much in its guiding principles which include 
"expecting people on income support to help themselves and contribute to 
society". This is the alternative to "providing a passive safety net".

The report states early on that "Australia is now in its sixth year of 
strong economic growth" but doesn't say who are the beneficiaries of this 
growth i.e. super profits for the big corporations.

A lot of soft language is packed like cotton wool around the cruel and 
ruthless goals of the report, such as  "Central to our vision for the 
future is a belief that the nation's support system must be judged by its 
capacity to help people access opportunities for economic and social 
participation ..."

Noble words. Further down the track it talks of "reducing reliance on long-
term income support". This should be considered in the context of 
Employment Services Minister Tony Abbott's interpretation. "If you are 
offered a job you have got to take it", Abbott said last week. 

"For people on the dole there is no alternative to taking the job that's 
offered. Otherwise, unemployment is no longer a matter of inability to find 
work, but a question of lifestyle choice."

These are what Abbott calls "job snobs" who won't take "McJobs"; as such 
the cattle prod will be used to force them into low paid, part-time/casual 
work and off the unemployment roll.

Corporate welfare

On the other hand the Government finds nothing wrong with corporate 
welfare.

There is a supplement payment as part of the work-for-the-dole scheme of 
$20 per fortnight, a pittance meant to compensate workers for the cost of 
travelling or relocating to a job he/she has been forced into by the 
scheme.

The report proposes that the supplement be offered to potential employers 
by workers "to contribute to the person's wage to provide an added 
financial incentive to employers to hire them".

The report goes on to state the bleeding obvious: "People who receive 90 
percent of their income from government cash benefits are clearly 
financially reliant on income support."

But what does this mean? That they have chosen a "lifestyle" of struggling 
to get by, week in week out, on social security payments?

The document is styled as a motherhood statement. It sets down undeniable 
facts, such as that the long-term unemployed need jobs, and that the youth 
should have access to training and be in the workforce.

It offers no concrete solutions  such as a program to create more real 
jobs  because the Government's policies are geared in the opposite 
direction of increasing corporate profits and cutting government spending.

The report is shot through with the language of private enterprise and 
privatisation: "social partnerships between governments, businesses and 
communities"; "service delivery"; "one to one service"; "personalised 
assistance"; "customer service".  

Mainstreaming

It is intended that eventually all categories of pension payments will be 
eliminated and a one-fits-all payment be created, a form of mainstreaming.

Hence a statement such as "a person's payment type determines their payment 
rate", is linked to an "underlying assumption" that "many women receive 
payments that assume domestic responsibility and dependency".

These "different entitlements and obligations attaching to one category or 
another can give rise to unintended behavioural incentives".

That's the cotton wool around the welfare bludger insinuation which 
follows: "For example, people may attempt to qualify for payments that 
provide a better level of income and/or better support services (for 
example Disability Support Pension rather than unemployment payments)."

Or sly parents may be living apart so that they can both receive poverty-
level payments instead of living together on a single poverty-level 
payment: "Lone parents may face a significant financial disincentive to re-
partnering with someone who is also on income support or in low paid work."

The answer? "The most radical approach to reform would be to do away with 
the current income support categories and have one integrated payment 
structure ..."

Such a move would need to be done by stealth: "Moving towards an integrated 
payment would require integration of pensions and allowances, which is 
likely to be difficult to achieve quickly."

Lower payments

The result of these changes to the overall welfare operation will be lower 
payments all round. The report's welfare bashing alongside its claptrap 
about "incentives" and "participation" come together seamlessly with the 
description of the current arrangements:

"The provision of income to people who are looking for work, who have 
disabilities or are caring for others can reduce the financial imperative 
to get income from paid work. 

"The more generous that assistance relative to income from work and the 
fewer requirements placed on recipients, the more likely it is that people 
will remain on income support for long periods.

"The impact of income tests for various payments, their interaction with 
the tax system and loss of other benefits can lead to a situation where 
there is little increase in disposable income when moving from income 
support to work or increasing hours of work."

On the bright side the report says there are those who will take low wage 
and insecure work in poor conditions simply because it makes them feel 
good.

"Some people will still accept a job where there are few immediate 
financial gains in the expectation that there earnings from work will 
increase over time and because they enjoy the social participation and 
status attached to working."

People on the Disability Support Pension (DSP) apparently suffer not only 
from their disability but also from a disincentive because of "unique 
features of the DSP" which "discourage recipients from working".

Never mind that the main eligibility criteria for the DSP is severe 
impairments which are assessed as causing an inability to work or undertake 
education or training.

The Government's "vision" is to create a pool of unemployed workers and 
pensioners who employers will be able to exploit and discard at will. It is 
the end of government responsibility and the imposition of corporate diktat 
on society's most venerable citizens.

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