More than 200,000 Australians aged over 50 are now on the dole, new figures show, with the number of older Australians receiving unemployment benefits dramatically increasing in the past four years.
The Federal Government yesterday unveiled a $5.1 billion plan for a new employment service model that includes about $640 million for wage subsidies to encourage employers to take on the long-term unemployed.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says the increase could not just be attributed to Australia’s ageing population.
“We have had an increase since last year of 24,000, which is an increase since 2010 of 45 per cent,” she told AM.
“I would suggest that that’s not just population increasing as our population ages – that there are some employment barriers there that older workers are facing and that they are not being able to re-engage with employment.”
The draft employment and welfare changes include an expanded work for the dole system.
Jobseekers will also be forced to apply for 40 jobs each month in order to qualify for benefits.
Senator Siewert says forcing older job seekers to undertake 15 hours of an approved activity each week will not help their employment prospects unless emphasis is put on proper training.
“A keep-busy program I don’t think is what they need,” she said.
“I couldn’t tell you how many reports I’ve had from older workers, who, when they go to their job service provider, are told ‘no’, then are refused access to training money and the programs,” she said.
“They want to retrain because service providers have been more focused on their young people they think they can get into the workforce more easily.”
Wage subsidies not enough, Greens warn
More than $480 million of the money set aside for wage subsidies will be used to encourage employers to take on mature age workers.
Senator Siewert says that, while the money is welcome, wage subsidies will not go far enough.
“Wage subsidies can go a certain way, but we need to get very serious about age discrimination and provide significant training and re-skilling,” she said.
The Federal Government, meanwhile, is defending its proposals, with Employment Minister Eric Abetz saying job seekers should not be choosy about finding work.
“Where there are jobs available, you should seek that employment even if it is not necessarily the employment of first choice,” he told Lateline.
But a professor of social policy at the Australian National University, Peter Whiteford, says it is not necessarily the best approach for the broader economy.
“The reasons for having income support is that it actually improves labour market efficiency,” he told AM.
“It means that people have the time to look for jobs that are suited to them and then they’ll be more productive when they get those jobs.
“In Australia, for the short-term unemployed, we have the lowest level of benefits relative to wages of any OECD country.
“So the incentives to get a job in the first six to 12 months [are] incredibly strong, because we pay people less as a proportion of wages than anywhere else.”
Professor Whiteford’s views have been echoed by welfare and business groups.
The Business Council of Australia says the Government should let people focus on applying for jobs they have the best chance of winning, adding that more work is needed to make sure the new system places people in jobs for the long-term.