And here’s the worst of it: they’ve been without a job for so long because they’ve been without a job for so long. It’s a catch-22. The longer it’s taking you to find a job, the less willing an employer is to offer you one.
The good news is that, now we’re so close to full employment – now employers can’t be so choosy – we’ve started making inroads into the backlog of long-term unemployed. But it will take a long time to shift, especially if the businesses that taxpayers pay to help them find jobs find it more profitable to waste their time and trip them up.
We all have our own mental picture of who’s unemployed. Match your picture against what Davidson told the summit: of all the people on unemployment benefits, 57 per cent are 45 or older, 40 per cent have a disability, 20 per cent have what he calls “culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds”, 13 per cent are First Nations people and 12 per cent are sole parents, mainly women.
One reason there are a lot more long-term unemployed than there were in the old days is the decision that benefit recipients of working age – including widows, many sole parents and the less-than-fully disabled – should be on (the much lower and more tightly regulated) unemployment benefit.
At the time, those transferred to a lower benefit were to be given special help with training and job-finding. But after the Howard government abolished the Commonwealth Employment Service, and the provision of “employment services” was contracted out to charities and, increasingly, for-profit providers, their role became more about policing and punishing.
Davidson says the new Workforce Australia scheme – which is little better than the Jobactive scheme it’s replacing – is “more of an unemployment-payment compliance system than an employment service”.
It sends people out into the labour market and, when they don’t find jobs, tells them to search harder. People are told “it’s not our role to find you a job”.
It locks people into an endless cycle of make-busy activities like Work for the Dole and poor-quality training courses. It reaches less than 10 per cent of employers, and offers them little assistance.
This is confirmed by detailed research by Anglicare Australia. Director Kasy Chambers says they found that “private providers are being paid millions of dollars to punish and breach people”.
“Work for the Dole and Jobactive have repeatedly been shown to fail … yet the people we spoke to also told us that they want to do activities that matter, and that lead them into work.”
Last word to Davidson: “This is supposed to be an employment services system, not the Hunger Games.”
Ross Gittins is the economics editor.
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