By Kathleen Carmody
Welfare groups have criticised the Federal Budget relief package for Australia’s most disadvantaged as modest and inadequate.
The $771.5 million earmarked
for welfare falls short of the $1 billion-plus expected by welfare lobbyists and is nowhere near the $4.5 billion over two years cited by the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission as necessary to reform the
“What the Coalition trumpeted as a ‘very big spend, an enormous spend’ in the week leading up to the Budget, has in fact turned out to be a net outlay of $770 million over four years,” said
Toby O’Connor, national director of the commission.
Initiatives such as the new working credit scheme – allowing jobless to take on part-time or casual work without losing their benefit – and training
credits worth $800 for mature age and indigenous job seekers have been welcomed, as have increased child care places and improved resources for Centrelink and the Job Network.
However, the commission is
concerned at the introduction of tougher activity tests and compliance crackdowns for welfare recipients, Mr O’Connor said.
It is feared that by creating more hoops for job seekers to jump through in order to
claim their benefits, the government was creating greater opportunities for slip-ups, which would result in financial penalties.
The commission and the St Vincent de Paul Society have criticised the
government’s “breaching” policy, saying it targets the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
In its recently published Seven Principles for Welfare Reform, the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission said the
government had saved more than $200 million in last year’s budget through breaching, which it described as reprehensible.
“People who are unemployed suffer a double penalty of being denied their right to a
decent job and then being threatened with severe penalties when receiving benefits,” the commission said.
This year, the Government expects to retrieve almost $1 billion through similar penalties and by
getting more people off welfare support.
Of greater concern to the commission is the absence of any job creation programs in the Budget, given the forecast of seven per cent unemployment and the consequent
likely increase in the number of people on unemployment benefits.
“Most alarming is the conspicuous absence of any job creation strategies that would provide real social and economic opportunities,” said Mr
The Australian Council of Social Services described the Budget as missing the fundamental targets, saying it had not delivered the jobs plan needed to give people a real chance of getting into the
“A major change in direction is needed to make a dent in long-term joblessness,” said council president Michael Raper.
“What’s missing is a substantial investment in guaranteed intensive
assistance for long-term unemployed people.
“Existing programs such as the poorly performing Work for the dole have failed to make any impact for this group, who are in greater numbers than they were five
Patrick McClure, author of Mission Australia’s McClure Report, said the budget fell short of the $1 billion sought by the Reference Group on Welfare Reform.
“I’m very disappointed that
little has been done to help generate employment opportunities, especially in the bush,” he said.