High levels of unemployed welfare recipients losing access to their payments is indicative of a complex and inadequate system, not a proliferation of ‘welfare cheats’, according to community organisation and social business Settlement Services International (SSI).
Federal government data released overnight sparked a furore after it revealed just under four in five participants in the Jobactive scheme had their welfare payments suspended at least once in the 12 months to June this year. Reasons for suspension of payments included failure to attend job interviews or appointments and failure to look for work.
These figures are indicative of a complex system that is not adequately meeting the needs of people experiencing unemployment, particularly disadvantaged jobseekers, said SSI’s General Manager Service Delivery – Community, Karen Bevan, noting the federal government is already progressing a $1.3 billion overhaul of Jobactive to improve access to vacancies and training.
“Everyone should be able to exercise agency and control over their pathways to employment. This leads to stronger, long-term employment outcomes. A lack of flexibility in the current Jobactive system has led to perceptions that it is overly focused on compliance and penalties, rather than support,” said Ms Bevan.
“We welcome the government’s move to overhaul this system, with a national roll-out due in 2022.”
Ms Bevan said a particular deficiency in the current Jobactive program was the lack of specialist providers for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds – something that existed under the previous iteration of the program, Job Services Australia.
“Future employment service providers should be required to demonstrate capacity to be culturally responsive to job seekers from diverse backgrounds, including newly arrived migrants and refugees,” she said.
Migrants and refugees face unique barriers to employment including lack of local work experience, limited local networks and limited English language proficiency – something that is exacerbated by the move towards more online service delivery.
“We remain concerned that online service delivery of employment programs may unwittingly exclude cohorts with poor English language proficiency and/or poor digital literacy,” said Ms Bevan.
“We suggest the inclusion of digital literacy screening in the initial assessment, providing digital literacy training to job seekers and including this as an approved activity to meet mutual obligation requirements.”
In SSI’s experience, the key ingredients to support individuals to navigate, enter and remain in the workforce long-term are individualised employment pathways, job readiness support, pre-employment training and work experience, effective job-matching and post-employment support.