The welfare industry’s concerted attack on the federal government stepped up a notch this morning when St Vincent de Paul’s national council CEO claimed that people at the margins of Australian society are set to “suffer even more keenly” under the Howard Government. The combined effect of the government’s “punitive welfare laws” and its WorkChoices legislation, says John Falzon, is pushing some people into even more meagre Centrelink payments.

“They are really, systematically, being herded into an ever cheaper pool of labour that is going to benefit some sections of society enormously,” Falzon told ABC Radio National’s Religion Report, in a continuation of the ugly debate between churches and charity organisations and the Howard Government over the new Welfare to Work legislation program for breached welfare recipients.

The stand-off over the scheme – under which people who are breached but deemed to be “extremely vulnerable” will be referred to churches and charitable organisations to receive one-off payments of up to $650 to manage their cases – began six months ago, when Falzon told the Religion Report that St Vinnies would have no part in what he described as an immoral regime.

Back then, Dr Falzon called the program, which will affect single parents and people with disabilities, an “unconscionable and immoral” system that “takes away dignity, it doesn’t offer hope, it doesn’t act as a mechanism for really enabling people to move from welfare to work”.

Today, his comments accompany another huge blow to the beleaguered new legislation – the announcement by Catholic Social Services and Anglicare that they too were pulling out of the program, joining the ranks of the Uniting Church, the Brotherhood of St Lawrence and Mission Australia.

According to the Religion Report’s Stephen Crittenden, the Salvation Army is still making up its mind on its stance, while Hillsong Church, the only organisation officially in on the scheme, has told Crittenden to stand by for an announcement later this morning.

Peter Fray

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