By Stephen Mayne

The Fin Review
splashed last Wednesday’s paper with a story about proposed changes to the disability support pension scheme under the headline “Budget to cut welfare benefits.” The third paragraph read as follows:

“The reform is worrying some cabinet members because it may push the unemployment rate up by two percentage points. This is because many single parents and disability pensioners are unlikely to find jobs due to lack of skills and opportunities, or their illness and family circumstances.”

In other words, the government has been fudging the figures for years by calling tens of thousands of unemployed Australians disability pensioners. Way back in July 1999, then Labor Party backbencher Mark Latham wrote a very interesting column in The Daily Telegraph which opened as follows:

When people talk about welfare reform in Australia they usually get worked up about Work For The Dole. Buried deep in the fine print of the Government’s welfare rule book, however, is a far more interesting program.

I call it Shoved Off The Dole. This is where people older than 55 living in high unemployment areas are moved off the dole and on to the Disability Support Pension (DSP). Even though they have an 80 per cent capacity to work, the Government has given up and classified them as disabled.

This is being used to lower Australia’s jobless figures artificially. People on the DSP are not required to look for work and therefore never bother the unemployment statistician.

Many experts believe there should be just 150,000 on disability payments, instead of the present 550,000. If so, Australia’s unemployment rate would shoot up from 7.2 per cent to 11.0 per cent. No wonder the Federal Government is giving more publicity to Work For The Dole than Shoved Off The Dole.

Isn’t it time as a nation that we came clean about the unemployment rate? Only last Tuesday, Peter Costello claimed the Howard Government has “cut the unemployment rate from 8.6 to 5.1 per cent”. All sides of politics now admit that Australia’s participation rate is well below the world average. This is partly because so many Australians collect non-dole welfare payments that take them out of the employment statistics.

Then you have the outrageous statistical rort where one hour of work a week means you are counted as employed by the government statistician. Crikey would love to put all the facts on the table regarding unemployment statistics and demystify what looks like a political rort. If you have any great insights, email [email protected]

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