Monday, September 3, 2012

Newstart - Dialing Up The Dole

The unemployed of Australia are probably the least likely candidates to garner any sympathy from the wider electorate.

They are even more unlikely to capture the attention of any politicians fishing for political capital, as there's other special interest groups better suited to whom they can court their wares with, either it be gay marriage or climate change.

Unemployment is somewhat a smelly dead rat that no one really wants to address. As long as it stays at around a manageable 5-5.5%, then everyone is happy, as most people can find work, carry on, and be good consumers and satisfied enough to not threaten the fabric of society.

And yet, there will always be unemployed; there can never be such a thing as 'full employment', and 4-5% unemployment in Australia is already considered 'full' employment.

In a capitalist economy, they actually serve to help drive down wages and control inflation - no one makes mention of it, but it is a factor in that regard.

However, with Australia's retail sector up the creek, and the chills of a possible end to the mining boom blowing in, that rate could find itself climbing rather quickly.

A few charity and business groups have recently been pressuring the federal government to bolster the rate of the Newstart Allowance (which I am graciously a recipient of myself) - Australia's unemployment benefit.

Bill Shorten, despite his previous gaffe of alluring to the fact that perhaps it was a struggle to live on his ministerial wage of $330, 000, has also recently stated that the government takes the rate of Newstart "very, very seriously," and that he was paying attention to the matter.

Over half a million Australians receive this payment, and with a working population of 11.5 million, it's a sizeable amount of people that the government needs to accommodate.

It probably sounds a bit Marxist, but it's an army of reserve labour.

The problem is, they're all living on $35 a day, granted not including other benefits such as medical care, but the case is being made by those interest groups to raise the rate.

For one thing, being on Newstart doesn't give you any confidence in yourself as a person. There's few if any social circles, and any from your former study of workplace can quickly dissipate; along with any support network associated with them.

There's no money to dress nicely, or to portray yourself as a confident and outgoing person that has pride in him or herself, which is what employers are supposedly looking for.

All in all, at least in my own experience, you begin to avoid everyone else and see yourself as 'the other' that society has deemed unfit to play any role within it, and that it would be better off without you.

But on the issue of how much Newstart pays, I personally do not want to see a rise in the payment.

On the contrary, the payment should be abolished and replaced with something radically different; there needs to be a swift departure to how unemployment is currently handled.

I for one do not want to be on Newstart, and I would much rather renumeration for being productive and doing something practical, hence why I undertook study in the first place.

Welfare, as it is has evolved from the left side of the political spectrum, has evolved into something quite harmful and damaging when it operates from within inside a market-driven economy.

One group of people are generating private wealth from private employment, while another group are surviving from the redistribution of alms collected by the government to the poor; welfare payments keep a person in a perpetual expectation that they will always be there, no matter want.

All the while, the gap between rich and poor widens all the more.

It has bred a whole class of single parents that have learnt it is possible to keep reproducing to keep receiving payments - thereby setting up their children inside the welfare cycle themselves.

It's brutal to acknowledge, but it's not difficult to find examples.

And it's not even a question of ambition. I myself do not want to be famous, or rich, or even wealthy. It just shouldn't be too much of an ask to want to live comfortably and to have a sense of belonging and acceptance, which after several years of job seeking, is becoming quite distant on the horizon.

Granted, the government itself has said it feels the current rate of payment of Newstart encourages people to go out and look for work; since it's already a pittance, surely it must motivate people to go out and find a job?

Not entirely.

While Newstart is a lowly payment, it can also represent a stable payment, perhaps even more stable than a low income job - this sets up an insidious welfare trap, where work seems either impossible obtain, or the net financial gain is minimal once one is earning a taxable income.

Also, you might just plumb give up after a run of unsuccessfully executed job interviews.

Charity groups have also noted it's not so much the unemployed facing being booted out of where they live, or not having enough to eat, it's the working poor, who are burning the candle at both ends.

Some of them might have a mortgage to pay, for instance, and face losing the bank's house.

They probably might even harbour feelings of jealousy towards Johnny Dole Payment who has their rent subsidised, along with healthcare, and all the other fabulous trimmings provided to by Her Majesty.

Of course, I jest.

Unemployment benefits are supposed to be a 'safety net', not a means of supporting oneself. But combined with parenting payments and baby bonuses, it quickly becomes an attractive option.

But I'm not going to go into welfare recipient bashing - that would be quite hypocritical, and unlike perhaps the approach of the far right, where we would send them all down Gina Rinehart's mines with a hammer and chisel, there must be a better way to approach the issue.

Also, make no bones about it, since the former Howard government privatised the job seeking industry, we've had all sorts of private interests actually profit from the unemployed, such as Max Employment, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of an American company.

So chin up, dole bludgers. Your unemployment might actually be keeping someone within either the job seeker space or within Centrelink itself employed - that's +1 for irony.

But I digress.

Any lifting of unemployment benefits would probably merely be a form of short term economic stimulus.

Poorer people are most likely to spend any extra spare cash immediately - hence why government stimulus payments, such as the carbon tax 'compensation' find their way to the low income demographic.

It would only be a guess, but if by some act of fate that our economy does begin to tank, and retail and mining jobs go, there would probably only then be a case to lift the rate of Newstart - there would be more unemployed, but they would also have slightly more spending power that would be beneficial to the retail sector.

Only if it were beneficial to the wider economy would it be lifted.

If either side of politics was serious about everyone having work and participating in society, then there would be no need for an unemployment payment - it would be null and void.

Government programs for the unemployed might help, but unless an employer is actually willing to give them a job, then they will remain on that payment indefinitely.

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