Welfare system shake-up fears

Rachna Muddagouni. Picture: Michael Copp

The federal government’s latest effort to break the cycle of welfare dependence without supporting vulnerable people has been described as “just a Band-Aid effort”.

Brimbank-Melton community legal centre chief executive Rachna Muddagouni said ensuring young people were not dependent on the welfare system, and helping them become self-reliant, was a “glorious goal” to be working towards.

But she said punitive approaches and a failure to look at issues that lead to people being dependent on welfare services was not a viable approach.

“The people who are on the welfare are not on it because they’re choosing to be unemployed,” she said.

Federal Social Services Minister Christian Porter announced last week radical proposals for Australia’s welfare system, including attempts to entice stakeholders, academics and governments to pitch their ideas to help members of vulnerable groups get jobs.

Mr Porter said the current system was similar to “assembling IKEA furniture in the dark”.

He said the federal government was also considering expanding “mutual obligation” requirements for welfare recipients so they refrain from excessive use of alcohol or drugs.

An analysis by Price Waterhouse Coopers shows carers, young parents and students were particularly vulnerable to falling into the trap of welfare dependency.

“The outcomes highlighted from the report are particularly concerning for the young people identified,” Mr Porter said.

“Nobody wants to see a life spent in the welfare system from a very young age.

“The moral imperative here is to move away from being content with policy approaches that just spend more money because that is the way it has always been done.”

Ms Muddagouni said the federal government needed to look at the casualisation and off-shoring of the workforce.

She said it needed to look at improving education outcomes for vulnerable people and investing more money in social and legal services.

“I think the aim of getting young people off the welfare system is a very good idea, but I think the idea of getting there by tightening the welfare system is just a Band-Aid effort,” she said.

“What it should be is, ‘Let’s identify what are the issues of homelessness and the housing market that impact young people’.”

There were more than 125,000 people receiving Centrelink payments in 2014, according to the Department of Social Services.