A government jobs program for long-term unemployed is taking an average of five years to find people work, a new report has found.
In the meantime, many of those jobseekers are forced to live on “dangerously low” Newstart payments that can be readily switched off by the employment services provider.
The research in the Jobs Availability Snapshot by Anglicare has renewed calls for an overhaul of the welfare system, with a prominent unemployed workers’ advocate saying it disproves the government’s claim Newstart payments are only for short-term use.
Those facing barriers to re-entering the workforce, such as a disability, old age or lack of qualifications, are at greatest risk.
The report found only 10 per cent of advertised roles are available to these jobseekers referred to as ‘stream C’ workers by the Jobactive program.
Such a small pool means there is only one job on offer for every five stream C jobseekers, placing them at risk of losing vital Centrelink payments despite doing everything possible to secure work.
Anglicare executive director Kasy Chambers told The New Daily the report confirms the need for changes to the welfare system.
“There are people going for hundreds of interviews and getting nothing,” Ms Chambers said.
The jobs just aren’t there.’’
Many of these jobseekers subsequently find themselves unemployed for extended periods, and that in itself can make it more difficult for someone to return to work.
Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union spokesperson Jeremy Poxon said the findings “shoot dead the government’s rhetoric” that employment is the best form of welfare.
“These people are struggling to find work anywhere, so it’s pretty cruel to force them into a punitive program based on finding jobs,” he said.
In addition to an increase to the Newstart rate, Mr Poxon said the government needs to consider a federally funded employment guarantee “so every Australian who wants to work can”.
Policy ‘pretty offensive’
But the lack of available jobs is only one part of the employment problem, according to Australia Institute senior research fellow David Richardson.
Mr Richardson told The New Daily the government’s employment targets are keeping people on the sidelines.
That’s because the Reserve Bank of Australia defines ‘full employment’ as 4.5 per cent unemployment, and government policy on jobs is based on the target rates set by the central bank in an effort to control inflation.
When unemployment is lower than this target, the RBA fears inflation will explode out of control.
A higher unemployment rate, conversely, would lead to deflation, Mr Richardson said.
Essentially, government does not want everyone looking for work to have a job.
This, coupled with a dearth of available jobs, should “take a big portion of the blame” for blowing the average time a worker spends on Newstart out to 159 weeks, Mr Richardson said.
“It tends to be this underclass of precarious workers who experiences the brunt of this,” he said.
“When the government is targeting 5 or 4.5 per cent unemployment, to then turn around and vilify unemployed people by calling them things like ‘job snobs’, as [former prime minister Tony] Abbott did a few years ago, or more recently raising the spectre of drug testing and implying they’re all wasted is pretty offensive.”
Mr Richardson supported Ms Chambers’ calls for an increase to the Newstart rate, and added that doing so could help create more jobs by increasing consumption.