This would continue the recent focus of both Labor and the Coalition on the idea that while welfare is necessary for the alleviation of disadvantage, it also has a role in maintaining or even causing disadvantage.
Labor’s main welfare policy document commits a re-elected Gillard Government to modernising Australia’s welfare system through ‘creating opportunity and requiring responsibility’. The document refers to the need ‘to spread the dignity and purpose of work, end the corrosive aimlessness of welfare and bring more Australians into mainstream economic and social life’.
Similarly, the Coalition’s policy document on employment participation commits to providing incentives to move people from unemployment to the workforce. It argues that:
Unemployment can have a corrosive impact on individuals, families and society at large. In addition to the economic costs, long term unemployment can be particularly debilitating. Allowing people who could readily work to stay out of the workforce is cruelty not compassion.Labor’s approach is reflected in a range of policy commitments aimed at providing incentives for participation in the workforce or education. These include:
- payments of up to $6,000 for unemployed people who relocate to take up a job, and $2,500 for the employer who hires them—this would be trialled with up to 2,000 eligible job seekers from 1 January 2011
- new penalties for non-attendance at employment services appointments—job seekers will be made aware that failure to attend appointments or other required activities may result in an immediate withholding of income support
- new arrangements for payment of the FTB-A end of year supplement for families on an income support payment, under which recipients with a four year old, will be conditional on the completion of a health assessment, such as the Healthy Kids Check
- increasing the maximum payment rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A (FTB-A) by more than $150 per fortnight for teenagers aged 16 to 18 years who are in school or an equivalent vocational qualification and
- allowing age pensioners to earn up to $6500 a year extra without it affecting their pension.
- people aged 15 to 24 who have been in receipt of Youth Allowance (other), Newstart Allowance, Special Benefit or Parenting Payment for more than three of the previous six months
- people aged 25 and above who have been in receipt of specified payments, including Newstart Allowance and Parenting Payment for more than one year in the previous two years
- people referred for income management by child protection authorities and
- people assessed by Centrelink social workers as requiring income management due to vulnerability to financial crisis, domestic violence or economic abuse.
- payments of up to $6,000 for unemployed people who relocate to a regional area to take up a job offer, and up to $3,000 for those who move to a metropolitan area—as with the similar Labor scheme, $2,500 will be paid to the employer who hires them
- payments of up to $4,000 for long-term unemployed young people who find a job and keep it for up to two years
- payments of $3,250 for employers that hire workers aged 50 or older and
- an expanded paid parental leave scheme under which mothers would be paid for 26 weeks at full income replacement (capped at $150,000) (the more modest Labor Government scheme allowed for 18 weeks at the minimum wage).
While policies aimed at increasing workforce participation described above reflect a long term trend in Australia and other OECD countries towards active labour market programs, the emerging policy consensus around the need for governments to actively intervene in the lives of welfare recipients in order to ameliorate the negative consequences of welfare is, arguably, a more recent phenomenon.
This move towards a more interventionist (or paternalist) approach to welfare policy raises a range of questions that the next parliament may find itself having to address. These include:
- what evidence will be required to evaluate whether the new approach to welfare has been a success?
- what (if any) limits ought there be on the nature and extent of interventions in the lives of welfare recipients?
- to what extent can welfare reforms cause individuals to change their behaviours in a meaningful and enduring way (is there a paradox in using paternalistic means to assist people to become less passive and more personally responsible?)?
(Image sourced from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrelink)