Welfare-to-work programs promoted by successive governments have had no impact on unemployment as they fail to take into account the changing labour market, researchers have found.
The Australian National University (ANU) research, reported in the Australian on Friday, shows that the proportion of unemployed men aged between 25 and 54 has not changed in almost 15 years, staying at 9-10%.
Professor Peter McDonald from the ANU’s Crawford school of public policy told ABC radio blue-collar jobs were disappearing.
“Full-time jobs for men under age 20 are almost all blue collar, but they’re getting very, very scarce. If you don’t have the skills in this new economy, you’re in trouble,” McDonald said.
He said there was a “fundamental structural problem” for low-skilled workers in the labour market.
“I’m not suggesting that welfare-to-work programs are not a good idea … but we need to be looking at the longer-term issue of intergenerational transfer of disadvantage … kids who leave school, often their parents aren’t working,” McDonald said.
Employment minister Eric Abetz said the program was just one strand of the government’s jobs strategy, and that it was working to create more employment opportunities.
“I’d encourage anyone who wants to see the benefits of work for the dole to speak to the long-term unemployed who have turned their lives around courtesy of the skills provided by this program.
“We know that one of the main reasons employers don’t employ the long-term unemployed people is often because of a lack of work history and work-readiness. The government’s program both provides a reference for the jobseeker and helps to build work-like skills.”
The chief executive of Jobs Australia, David Thompson, said the government needed to shift the focus from welfare-to-work programs to reskilling the jobless.
“We need to invest not just in training, but also in work experience for these people,” Thompson said.
He said service providers were now unable to use government money to put people in training unless it was for a specific job.
“The government’s got to get the economy firing so that there are jobs being created,” Thompson said. “We need to be looking at where opportunities will be for training and future employment opportunities.”
He said the idea that unemployed people were “bludgers” was “far, far from the truth” and that most jobless people were desperate to find work.
Maree O’Halloran, from the National Welfare Rights Network said the welfare-to-work program was “morally wrong [and] doesn’t solve the unemployment problem”.
“[The program] is intended to have a shaming effect,” O’Halloran said. “It’s designed to have stigma attached to being unemployed.”
She said there were five people looking for every job advertised, and the government should focus on job creation rather than welfare measures.
The Greens want welfare-to-work ditched.
“The new [social services] minister [Scott Morrison] should study the evidence and abandon this government’s cruel approach and instead focus on investments in better employment services, skills development, case management, education, training and other programs … [That] would deliver far better results than an ideological commitment to work for the dole,” the Greens senator Rachel Siewert said.
The work-for-the-dole scheme was introduced in 1998 when Tony Abbott was minister for employment services. Labor scaled back the scheme when it took power in 2007, but never abandoned it.
In this year’s budget, Abbott’s first as prime minister, the program was expanded to include jobseekers up to the age of 50.
The government also introduced the Restart program, which gives employers a $10,000 inducement for hiring jobseekers over the age of 50. Senate documents revealed by Fairfax Media show that since July only 510 employers have taken up the scheme, which was projected to help about 32,000 a year.
Abetz told Fairfax the government “expects that take-up will increase as employers become aware of the program”.
A spokeswoman for the minister said the government never expected 32,000 to sign up straight away, but rather that the budget had allotted enough money to facilitate that number of participants.
She said hundreds of people had found jobs as a result of the scheme.
A similar inducement program offered under the Labor government, which gave employers $1,000 a year for hiring senior jobseekers, attracted only 230 applicants in its two years of operation.
“The Restart program has delivered triple the number of jobs in a quarter of the time compared to [opposition leader Bill] Shorten’s failed attempts with his Jobs Bonus Scheme”, employment minister Eric Abetz said.
Labor said its programs focus on training and support for jobseekers. “Tony Abbott has no plans when it comes to creating jobs and getting people off welfare and into work,” shadow employment minister Julie Collins said.