Welfare system needs root and branch reform: Mission Australia

WELFARE recipients must have more regular assessments to address changes in their personal circumstances that require different levels of support, the country’s largest welfare organisation has told the Abbott government’s review of the sector.

Feb 21 2014

The Australian

Mission Australia chief executive Toby Hall said his organisation, which had participated in informal consultations with the review in recent weeks, argued the system needed root-and-branch reform because it was failing vulnerable Australians by not providing the right supports to improve their lives.

“While there are many causes of poverty, the greatest contributing factor in Australia is unemployment,” Mr Hall said. “That’s why we have to act to reform the welfare system – so we can better assist people to gain employment and participate in our communities.

“Some in our community will always need significant support to live their lives, often due to major disability or health issues. But others would relish the opportunity to participate in their community and the workforce, if only the system provided the right support, incentives and encouragement to help them overcome the significant barriers they face.”

He said reforming the welfare system made economic sense, “but more than that – it’s the right thing to do”. “At the heart of any review must be a focus on long term reform and sustainability, rather than short-term savings to balance the budget,” he said. “If the review delivers nothing more than shortsighted cuts to vital programs and support payments, not only will this impact on our most vulnerable citizens, the whole economy will suffer in the long run.”

Mission Australia continues to call for a shift to a universal payment system for working-aged welfare recipients as was recommended by the original McClure report 13 years ago.

It also wants a more accurate assessment of clients when placing them into benefit streams.

“Mission Australia supports a model that provides a base single-income support payment to all people accessing welfare, which can then be topped up by additional payments based on the needs of the individual and a participation supplement supporting those who are able to return to work to do so,” Mr Hall said.

“We need a system that is equitable and where payments are based on an individual’s needs, not a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why a universal payment with add-ons is the best approach.”

He said a universal payment needed to be defined by what was an appropriate level of support to allow people to participate in the community. The current Newstart rate, he said, was inadequate. “If this is the base payment, it must be increased across the board,” he said.

“The initial assessment process also needs significant improvement to make sure people receive the right support for their situation at the time of assessment. This should then be an ongoing process to ensure people are receiving the support they need, which in some cases may increase, while in other cases it will decrease.

“These kinds of reforms will require investment in order to deliver savings in the long run.”