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.