Employment service reform on the table: Burke
Australia cannot afford to raise social benefit rates but other forms of support can be reformed to help the long-term unemployed, the employment minister has said.
Tony Burke said the high levels of debt facing the nation after the pandemic made it difficult to change the jobseeker’s payment, currently $46 a day.
The payments will be discussed at the federal government’s upcoming jobs and skills summit, with a leading social welfare group calling for the rate to be raised to $70 a day.
It would help lift people out of poverty while they look for work, according to the Australian Social Services Council.
“We still have 935,000 people trying to survive on unemployment benefits … who are currently being neglected by employers and excluded from paid work,” ACOSS acting chief Edwina McDonald said.
Mr Burke said that with the unemployment rate at a historic low of 3.4%, there was an opportunity to reform government services.
“Because there are fewer people in the system…there should be an opportunity to cluster as many services as possible around people to be able to help them…so I’m always very attentive to what we can do,” said he told ABC radio on Monday. .
But the government may not be able to raise the jobseeker rate in its first budget, Burke said.
“There will be things that we would like to do, that people would like us to do, that will not be possible,” he said.
“It is a decision that is made in the budget, but it is difficult.”
However, Independent Senator David Pocock said the government should reconsider jobseeker rates, rather than prioritizing tax cuts for the wealthy.
“We have to take care of people who need this support to be able to reintegrate into the labor market. It doesn’t make sense for Australians to live in poverty,” he told ABC radio.
“We have seen during COVID when the rate has been increased, poverty has decreased across the country.
“There’s no reason we can’t do that (now), especially when we’re busy talking about giving the wealthiest Australians $243 billion in tax cuts over the next decade. .”
ACOSS also calls on the government to seize the “historic” opportunity of low unemployment to secure jobs and life wages.
Australia’s low unemployment rate is unlikely to continue unless the government acts, and a commitment to full employment must be at the heart of any reform, Ms McDonald said.
The council proposes to the government to set up a guarantee of employment and training for people in a situation of long-term unemployment.
This would replace work for unemployment and employability skills training programs which the council says are ineffective and designed to humiliate people.
A document released by ACOSS ahead of the summit describes supported employment, paid work trials and vocational training as alternatives to existing schemes to help people overcome barriers to employment.