Category Archives: The Australian

Tougher era ahead for welfare recipients

National Affairs Editor
Canberra
Reporter
Canberra
New rules.

New rules.  Source: TheAustralian

A WIDENING of the deeming regime for retirees and tougher reporting restrictions for dole and disability support benefits recipients begins today with the start of 2015.

Some of the biggest budget savings will not start as scheduled today, with the GP co-payment bogged in the Senate and the ­Coalition’s earn-or-learn crackdown for the young unemployed also blocked by the upper house.

On January 15, cars and a range of electrical goods could become cheaper as tariffs are cut on imports of Japanese products as the Australia-Japan FTA comes into effect. The entry into force of the FTA should also provide a boon to exporters.

From today, retirees who buy allocated pensions and account-based pensions will find themselves facing the same deeming treatment as those on the Age Pension. However, arrangements that are already in place will not be affected under grandfathering provisions.

Under the new rules, the money held in the allocated pension will be subject to deeming and the amount deemed to have been earned will be used to assess income when calculating the ­pension.

Untaxed superannuation will also be included in the assessment of income for the federal seniors health card. From today, a means test will be applied to the Schoolkids Bonus, with only families on $100,000 or less receiving it.

The passage of the government’s social services bill in November also means that from today DSP recipients will generally be paid for up to only four weeks in a year if they are absent from ­Australia.

There will be limited reasons why students on welfare can ­travel overseas without losing payments.

DSP applicants will be required to be assessed by a government-approved doctor.

From today, the government will end indexation of the clean energy supplement for welfare recipients because of the abolition of the carbon tax.

Under tougher provisions, applicants for Newstart, sickness, widow or youth allowances, or parenting payments will have to wait a week before receiving payments.

Newstart recipients who have their payments suspended because they missed an appointment with an employment service provider will be required to attend a rescheduled appointment before the benefits are paid again.

The fee for Partner Visas in the permanent family migration scheme jumps 50 per cent from about $3000 to more than $4600.

New initiatives that start from today include free flu vaccin­ations for indigenous children aged between six months and five years.

From today, a $476 million industry skills fund will begin to support training needs of small and medium-sized businesses

The government has also ­announced 150 bursaries for young carers to help them ­continue studies by relieving pressure to take up part-time work.

The opposition’s acting families spokeswoman Jan McLucas said Labor had stopped the government punishing young jobseekers by kicking them off Newstart for six months.

Labor would continue to fight Tony Abbott, who wanted to shift young people under 24 from Newstart on to the lower Youth Allowance, which would leave them $48 a week worse off.

Welfare to work drive has zero gain

 

WELFARE-to-work programs promoted by federal governments over the past decade have failed to have any substantial effect on the pool of about one million Australians not in work.

Research by the country’s leading demographer reveals the extent of the economy’s shift from an unskilled to a skilled workforce — and the political challenge of finding jobs for the long-term unemployed.

Peter McDonald, professor of demography at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, said analysis showed the net ­effect of welfare-to-work programs was “zero”.

Tougher era for welfare recipients

The proportion of men aged between 25 and 54 who were not in the workforce had not changed from about 9-10 per cent from 2000 to the present day, he said.

Welfare to work drive’s zero gain

Peter McDonald

“Even though successive ­governments have had major welfare-to-work programs, the net effect is zero,’’ Professor McDonald said. “The problem with Australians out of work is a problem of lack of skills in an increasingly skilled labour market.’’

Work-for-the-dole initiatives were first introduced by the Howard government in 1998. They were toughened in 2006 and have been used in various forms by both Labor and Coalition governments. The Abbott government has cracked down on eligibility for the disability support pension, to ensure people capable of working do so, and is seeking Senate backing to toughen access to unemployment benefits.

Tony Abbott announced an earn-or-learn initiative under which people aged under 25 would no longer be entitled to receive Newstart and those under 30 would have to wait six months to receive the benefit. The measures have failed to win support from Labor or the crossbench in the Senate.

The Rudd government ­maintained so-called mutual-­obligation policies, although work-for-the-dole numbers fell under Julia Gillard premiership.

Professor McDonald said unskilled male workers were the first hit by a downturn and welfare-to-work programs did ­little to prepare them for economic shifts. “They haven’t developed the skills to allow them to adjust to the changing nature of employment,” he said.

Research by Mark Wooden from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research has found that unskilled workers make up a shrinking proportion of the workforce. Labouring jobs dropped from 12.9 per cent in 1993 to 10.8 per cent in 2008 and 9.8 per cent in 2013. Over the same period, professionals’ share of the workforce increased from 16.9 per cent in 1993 to 20.9 per cent in 2008 and 22.1 per cent in 2013.

Overall, the workforce share of the lowest skill levels dropped by 3.4 points to 22.5 per cent between 1993 and 2013, while the share of jobs requiring top skill levels increased 5.5 points to 24.6 per cent.

Professor McDonald’s work found growth in jobs had been narrowly focused, with only seven of 19 industries accounting for 80 per cent of additional jobs between 2009 and last year. Nearly 40 per cent of jobs growth was in health, social services and education.

Healthcare and social services recorded the biggest increase of 193,000 jobs for an annual growth rate of 3 per cent. It was followed by education and training (113,000, and annual growth of 2.6 per cent) and mining (110,000 and annual growth of 10.8 per cent).

Jobs in “other services’’ rose by 65,000 during the period for an annual growth rate of 1.4 per cent while accommodation and food rose 59,000, or 1.6 per cent, a year.

Calculations performed by Professor McDonald, using Australian Bureau of Statistics data, show migrants have been playing a crucial role in filling job vacancies as the workforce increased by 800,000 between June 2009 and June last year. Migrants in that five-year period accounted for 600,000 of the increased employment while 330,000 jobs went to workers older than 55.

About half the increase in jobs for workers older than 55 was attributable to people in that age group staying in work longer, the other half was attributable to the growing number of people in that age group, Professor McDonald said.

This meant that for workers who were not migrants and were not aged over 55, there were 130,000 fewer people employed at the end of the same period. Much of this could be attributed to people aged under 25 staying longer in tertiary education.

In the same period, unemployment rose by 11,000. All of this net increase could be attributed to middle-aged women taken off the sole parents pension and placed on unemployment benefits.

With no expected future growth at the younger ages of the workforce, Australia would have to rely on migration for any increase in employment, but migrants were not taking jobs from unskilled Australian workers, Professor McDonald said: “The types of jobs skilled migrants are getting are not jobs these Australians would get.’’

WA plan to hit fine defaulter welfare ‘unfair’

SONIA KOHLBACHER

A WEST Australian government plan to raid welfare payments and increase jail time for fine defaulters will unfairly affect people on low incomes, according to a lobby group.

Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis said he would examine the option of compulsorily deducting payments for unpaid fines from welfare recipients and extending jail time to make imprisonment a less appealing option.

WA Council of Social Service chief executive Irina Cattalini said the approach was unfair and would target the poor.

“There are some real inequities and systemic failings that make it difficult for people who are on low incomes to pay that in the first place.”

Ms Cattalini said it was inequitable for the government to use levers in the welfare system to force people to pay off fines.

She questioned whether fines were an appropriate method to curb offending and whether the government offered flexible payment options.

A woman known for cultural reasons as Miss Dhu was never given a custodial sentence by any magistrate, her full court record shows.

The 22-year-old was ultimately incarcerated for not paying a fine that a Geraldton magistrate imposed on her as an alternative to prison.

When she died in a Pilbara lockup on August 4, Miss Dhu was serving out a $1000 fine for a clash with a police officer 4½ years earlier, when she was 18.

Police took her to the Hedland Health Campus three times over the three days she was in the watch-house. The first two times she was deemed by medical staff as fit to return to her cell. On the third occasion they took her, a day before she was due to be released, she arrived with no pulse and was declared dead within an hour.

Labor’s corrective services spokesman Paul Papalia said fines were “cut out” at a rate of $250 for every day spent in prison although it costs taxpayers $345 a day to keep a person in jail.

Mr Papalia said one-third of all women jailed in WA were there for unpaid fines and, of those, two-thirds were Aboriginal.

“It does not get people to pay fines and it does not change their behaviour,” he said.

Deaths in Custody Watch Committee secretary Marc Newhouse said the state government was monetising the issue of unpaid fines and had failed to address the circumstances that led to fines.

“It would be far more to the point to be able to address the ­offending behaviour,” he said.

Complaints about employment service system increase by a third

The Australian

COMPLAINTS about job providers within the government’s $5.1 billion employment services system are increasing, with data revealing an upswing in the number of complaints by a third from July to October this year.

Over this period, there were 1041 complaints a month compared with 712 each month of the previous year.

One in five of the unemployed people who complained raised inappropriate service and one in eight were troubled by unprofessional behaviour of the employment consultant.

Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker said the government was changing the system to address quality concerns. “The government expects employment providers to deliver high-quality services to jobseekers and that jobseekers will also work cooperatively with their providers to meet their mutual obligation requirements, such as attending ­appointments and job interviews,” he told The Weekend Australian.

“Where a jobseeker has a complaint … there are processes to ­resolve the matter. This includes the Department of Employment speaking to both parties to clarify issues and, in a small number of cases, transferring a jobseeker to another provider if the relationship has totally broken down.

“The government’s employment services model requires all providers to commit to new quality standards to ensure jobseekers receive the right sort of help they need to find and keep a job.”

Maree O’Halloran, president of the National Welfare Rights Network, said new Senate estimates data showed that in the 12 months to June, 8550 jobseekers registered a complaint about their interaction with the employment services system.

“This is certainly a very low number when you take into account that point in time data suggests at June 2014 there were over 652,000 active jobseekers in the Job Services Australia caseload,” she said. “However, complaints about employment services are increasing. The data shows an ­upswing in the number of complaints about employment services by a third from July to October 2014. Over this period there were 1041 complaints per month compared to 712 each month of the previous year.”

The key areas of complaint, such as adequacy of services and inappropriate provider behaviour, mirror the concerns some jobseekers raise with Welfare Rights legal services across the country.

Centrelink call waiting racks up costs for poor

The Australian November 07, 2014 12:00AM

Patricia Karvelas

TENS of thousands of pensioners and welfare recipients are being stung by high call costs to Centrelink, prompting the National Welfare Rights Network to call for a 1800 free-call facility for more people. In a letter to Human Services Minister Marise Payne, the network notes with concern that the majority of lines used by the department’s clients are still ‘13’ listed numbers.

Centrelink’s two main lines, the self-service line and the ­reporting line, only offer a ‘13’ ­option. General inquiry lines for information about payments and services that are most frequently used do not provide a no-cost 1800 option.

These include lines for older Australians, those with a disabil­ity or sickness, carers, employment services, families and parents, and youth and students.

“With the number of fixed-line services dropping each year and mobile phones becoming the preferred choice of many people, it is important that DHS provide a 1800 Freecall facility for ‘13’ numbers,” the letter says.

“Telstra has announced it has removed call charges to 1800 numbers from Telstra ­mob­iles. Traditionally, 1800 numbers have been free of charge from landlines.

“However, calls from mobile phones are generally charged at timed rates. This has led to many of our clients being saddled with unavoidably high costs while waiting for considerable periods when calling the Centrelink call network”.

The network urges the department to significantly expand access to 1800 free-call numbers for people seeking information about payments and services, to reduce call costs for millions of low-income and disadvantaged Australians.

“Our clients can spend significant amounts of money calling DHS, irrespective of the call-back and queuing options that are available,’’ the network says. “For instance, some prepaid calls can charge $1.39 for a three-minute call. “Even if a person manages to get through in 15 minutes, they will still be out-of-pocket by nearly $7 for the call.”

Scott Morrison to be the Mr Muscle of reforms

the Australian

December 22, 2014 12:00AM

TONY Abbott has rewarded Scott Morrison with an enormous new super portfolio placing him at the centre of delivering the Abbott government’s biggest changes and constructing a budget package delivering childcare, welfare, pension and paid parental leave reforms.

The man who is credited with stopping the boats and delivering a hard-line immigration policy has been given the role of social ser­vices minister in a move that has sent shock waves through the welfare, childcare and family services sector.

Mr Morrison said yesterday he would devote himself to getting people off welfare and into work.

The welfare sector is viewing the appointment of the Immigration Minister as a sign the government will pursue draconian policies, particularly in reducing the amount spent on welfare.

The Prime Minister has decided his most difficult but crucial policies needed the cut-through messaging of Mr Morrison, but sources in the government questioned the decision, saying Mr Morrison lacks the ability to show a “softer” side.

Mr Abbott hopes Mr Morrison’s formidable political skills will land a package of reforms and ­secure their path through a difficult Senate.

Mr Morrison will have to respond to the Productivity Commission’s report on childcare, which has yet to be released, and tone down the promised paid parental leave scheme identified as one government barnacle.

He will also be required to respond to the forthcoming review by Patrick McClure that backs radically reduced and tightened welfare payments.

And he will have to resurrect the government’s policy to deprive people under 30 of the Newstart payment.

The reform promised in the budget has failed to get through the Senate.

Mr Morrison’s new portfolio places him at the helm of one of the largest areas of government expenditure, responsible for crafting the government’s revamped PPL and childcare scheme.

Mr Abbott said Mr Morrison’s new role would see him responsible for crafting a “holistic families package which will be such an important part of our political and economic agenda in the first half of next year”.

Mr Morrison issued a statement saying the Australian people can expect him to apply the same energy, commitment and leadership in this new role “as I have in immigration and border protection”.

Maree O’Halloran, president of the National Welfare Rights Network, said she hoped he would have the same position as the previous minister Kevin Andrews and commit to grandfathering disabil­ity support pension recipients.

“We will work with whichever minister is in the position. But the McClure report is about to be released and we are very concerned about people who are disabled on the disability support pension do not lose payments,” she said.

Labor’s families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said Mr Abbott had finally admitted his government’s record on family payments and pensions had been an utter failure.

The Greens said the appointment of Mr Morrison showed the government’s clear intent to ­pursue hard-line policies that would weaken the nation’s social safety net.

 

Parliament approves first of government’s budget welfare measures

Parliament approves first of government’s budget welfare measures

Victoria Editor
Melbourne

THE Abbott government has finally passed its social services bill, which has $2.7 billion in net savings over the forward estimates.

The revised bill includes a new lower means test on family payments and the tightening of the disability support pension.

The bill passed the Senate with ALP and Greens support. Crossbench senators including Bob Day, David Leyonhjelm and Ricky Muir also supported the bill. Independent senator Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie opposed, as did the Greens. The rest of the Palmer United Party abstained.

Measures passed support the Government’s decision to review disability support pension (DSP) recipients aged under 35 years against revised impairment tables.

From 1 January 2015, DSP recipients will generally be paid for up to four weeks only in a 12 month period if they are absent from Australia.

A sum of $3 million will fund the young carer bursary programme, which will provide support for young carers who look after people with disabilities, physical or mental health issues or older people in need of care.

From July 1, the family tax benefit (FTB) part B primary earner income limit will fall from $150,000 to $100,000 per year, and the FTB Part A per child add-on amount will no longer be used in calculating a family’s higher income free area.

Income from superannuation income will be included in the commonwealth seniors health card income test from January 1, with grandfathering provisions applied to existing cardholders.

Access to relocation scholarships will be restricted to students relocating to or from regional areas.

Gillard tightens disability pension

AN estimated four out of every 10 people currently eligible for the Disability Support Pension would fail to qualify for the payment under sweeping reforms to the welfare benefit to be unveiled by the Gillard government today.

In the biggest ever crackdown on the burgeoning DSP, the government will today publish proposed new “impairment tables” used to judge who is eligible to claim the benefit, worth $729.30 a fortnight for singles.

Under the first changes to the disability eligibility rules since 1993, people with a hearing impairment would now be assessed when their hearing aid was in to decide their capacity for work.

Previously it had been a requirement to be tested without a hearing aid. By contrast, those being tested for sight impairment were required to wear glasses.

Issues such as obesity or chronic pain would no longer be considered grounds in themselves for DSP eligibility. Rather, they would be considered based on how they affect a person’s capacity to function and work.

Bad backs would no longer be assessed by how much movement and mobility has been lost, but rather on what the back condition prevents the person from doing — such as sitting for a long period of time, or bending over to pick up objects. Such an assessment may still allow for certain types of work to be undertaken.

And there would be new guidelines on mental health, the fastest-growing category of new DSP recipients. People who suffer from episodic mental health conditions would now be treated with a focus on rehabilitation.

“The new (tables) will make sure that people applying for the Disability Support Pension will be assessed on what they can do and not what they can’t do,” Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said yesterday.

“I want to see people who have some capacity to work doing so.

“I believe we can do better than a lifetime spent on income support, for Australians who have some capacity to work.

“Of course the Disability Support Pension is, and will remain, an essential part of our social safety net for those who are unable to work.”

The new rules would take effect from January 1 next year and apply only to new applicants.

There are currently 815,000 DSP recipients, up by almost 100,000 from just two years ago, but the changes proposed by the government’s expert advisory committee — and expected to be adopted — are set to make a profound difference to the future take-up rate of the welfare payment.

A Centrelink review of the new tables found 38 per cent of the successful DSP applicants in the first half of this year would be found ineligible under the new tables.

Both Coalition and Labor governments have worked for years, with little effect, to control the ever-increasing numbers of DSP recipients by pushing the idea that those with the capacity to work should do so.

The DSP has long been a welfare dead-end for recipients, with very few moving off the payment, except on to the age pension.

In 2006, the Howard government changed the rules to stop people receiving the DSP if they could work 15 hours a week or more, down from the previous 30-hour test.

The 2009 budget saw the Gillard government put DSP decisions in the hands of more senior assessors. Since the change, introduced in July last year, successful claims fell from 63.3 per cent to 58.8 per cent.

The 2011 budget offered DSP recipients aged 35 and under a carrot, allowing them to work up to 30 hours a week without losing the part-pension. Previously, any more than 15 hours work a week was enough to suspend the payment. And, from September this year, applicants (other than those with a severe disability or illness) must show they have tried to get work or training before they can be eligible for the DSP.

The profile of a typical DSP recipient is changing from those with musculoskeletal conditions (currently 33 per cent of the total) to those with mental illnesses.

In 2001, less than 23 per cent of disability support pensioners had a psychological or psychiatric condition; now it is 29 per cent and growing.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes said the time was ripe for a change in the assessment procedures.

“They were last addressed in the early 90s and since that time much of the thinking on disability has changed from a medical to a social model, looking at how a person’s disability influences their capacity to function in life,” he said. “So I’m supportive of the government’s clear intention to ensure that as many people with disabilities as possible are out there in the community, working and paying taxes rather than receiving benefits.”

Blitz on remote dole scheme

29th October

The Australian

 

UNEMPLOYED ­Aborigines in remote communities will be forced into work for the dole five days a week, with tough new sanctions for failing to participate, under changes that have in-principle cabinet agreement.

Under the new policy, un­employed people with full work capacity would be forced into 25 hours of “work-like” dole activities spread over the week. Sources said there would not be any activities that allowed people to spend their time “painting rocks”. Instead the activities would replicate real work to ensure unemployed Aborigines were “work ready”.


The scheme will force all ­remote Aborigines into work for the dole but there will be people who will be allowed to do less than 25 hours a week based on their ­“assessed capacity”, which will ­acknowledge that some ­people who are on the general ­unemployment benefit, Newstart Allowance, are parents or disabled.
Sources said the joint cabinet submission by Employment Minister Eric Abetz, Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion greatly increased the sanctions placed on unemployed Aborigines in remote areas who failed to meet their new mutual obligations.
The larger package, including new spending to pay for the massively expanded scheme, must still go back to cabinet for final endorsement.
The Australian has previously foreshadowed that the Abbott government was looking at overhauling Labor’s remote jobs scheme.

Unlike the now downscaled CDEP scheme, under which unemployed indigenous people did work-for-the-dole activities and were paid “top-up wages”, the new scheme will not provide them any extra money for the full-time workload.

Work for the dole is not currently an element of the Remote Jobs and Communities Program, which operates in 60 communities. Jobseekers can be engaged in structured activities that are similar in nature to work for the dole for the amount of time needed to meet their mutual-obligation ­requirements. The scheme is loose and does not force most people into activities every day.

The Coalition has concluded that the $1.5 billion nationwide scheme has been failing to engage Aborigines in work.

The $120 million already spent equates to about $433,000 per successful job placement of six months or more.

The data reveals that only 30 per cent of the 37,000 unemployed Aborigines registered with the scheme were engaged in work for the dole and similar structured mutual-obligation activities.

Under the RJCP, which was introduced by the previous Labor government, a single provider in each region is contracted to work with individuals, communities and local employers to help more people into jobs and build stronger communities.
The program was designed to provide a more integrated and flexible approach to employment and participation services for people living in remote areas. It began in July last year with five-year contracts.

Under the changes considered by cabinet, these job agencies will be forced to roll out a huge work-for-the-dole program for the unemployed people they manage.
The changes will be made separately to consideration of Andrew For
rest’s broader welfare review, but the recommendations from his report will inform the thinking behind the changes.

The Forrest review called for many substantial changes, including the introduction of a national “healthy welfare” card that would prevent spending on alcohol and gambling, a significant reduction in the number of income-support payments, and bans on young people accessing welfare unless they are training or in work.

The mainstream work-for-the-dole scheme will also be reformed, under plans already announced. Extending work for the dole and the creation of new wage subsidies for the long-term unemployed will be a key part of the proposed system.

Almost $900m will be spent on extending the work-for-the-dole scheme over three years from next July. Jobseekers aged 30-49 will be required to do 15 hours’ work a week, while people aged 50-60 will be asked to do 15 voluntary hours a week of an approved activity.

Work for the dole will be mandatory for all jobseekers younger than 50 unless they are working part-time or, in limited cases, undertaking training for a specific job that is in demand in their local area.

Macklin: McClure dole plan will leave welfare recipients worse off

LABOR’S Jenny Macklin has attacked a plan by the government’s welfare review to give people on payments an interim ‘no financial disadvantage’ period after changes are introduced, saying it will still “leave people on income support worse off”.

Ms Macklin said the McClure review is “nothing more than Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey’s next round of savage cuts to vulnerable Australians”.

The draft McClure report has called for a simplification of the welfare payment system, reducing it to four new payments: a tiered working-age payment, a disability support pension (only for profound disabilities), an age pension and a child payment.

The McClure panel is keen to recommend in its final report that “no one is financially disadvantaged” by the radical welfare changes in the short term.

Under the final recommen­dations, people currently on the DSP with a work capacity would be put on the new “working age payment” and required to do job-search activities and training but would not be financially penalised in the short term.

Currently, the DSP pays $166 a week more than the general unemployment benefit, Newstart Allowance.

However Ms Macklin said giving people a “grace period” would mean nothing if welfare recipients were going to be left worse off in the long run.

“The reality is that vulnerable Australians will be hit hard by the recommendations of this review,” she said.

“The Abbott Government’s first Budget has already tried to rip billions of dollars out of the pockets of low income Australians. Now Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are hunting for their next round of savage cuts. It seems the Budget was just the start for this cruel and short-sighted Government”.

Ms Macklin said while Labor is not against simplification in principle, the opposition is concerned that simplification is this Government’s code word for cuts.

“Labor will not support another attack from Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey on the most vulnerable members of our community”.

She added: “Tony Abbott needs to explain to low-income Australians — already reeling from the budget — exactly how they will be affected by the McClure Review and by how much. Mr Abbott should also explain why he is so intent on ripping money away from welfare recipients, whilst at the same time paying $50,000 to wealthy women to have a baby”.