The federal police and a private security operator were there before dawn a few weeks ago. They had the house under surveillance. They were not looking for drug importers, a terrorist cell, a p-edophile network — they were spying on people receiving unemployment benefits.

There were men and women sharing the same house yet they were all on the single persons dole which, though $50 per week less than the age pension, is more than the dole for couple. There was nothing in it — they just all shared the house to keep the rent cost low and sacrificed their privacy as thousands of others do.

Over the last decade or more the federal government has been increasingly mean and penny pinching toward the unemployed — blaming them for their plight while sending tens of thousands of jobs offshore and running down the very infrastructure they need — public transport and public housing. Politicians call the unemployed “bludgers” without rebuke and, in an eerie parallel to management of ‘Aboriginal Affairs’ a massive industry has formed around these ‘inconvenient statistics’.

The dole is only available for three months, the recipients up to the age of 55 have to sign up for work for the dole — from painting rocks white to weeding native vegetation and similar jobs. There is a very small additional allowance that often does not cover transport to get to work, let alone the cost of a car.

Every unemployed person must first be signed up with a workplace provider. There is mock competition between these providers but they are all very much the same. They get some thousands of dollars for getting the unemployed jobs — but now that is just churning — in many regions there are simply not enough jobs to go around and it is getting worse. Work for the dole creates the statistical illusion that they are actually working — but at a very high price to the tax payer.

There will be no bonuses paid directly to those on the dole, unlike pensioners, carers and the disabled. According to Barry Cassidy of the ABC Insiders this is because unemployed people are “on and off the dole.” This sounds more like regurgitated spin rather than researched fact — especially since the National Australia Bank is warning of an additional 200,000 unemployed.

The penalties for unemployed people breaching their numerous and complicated obligations are severe. They lose half of their tiny income or the entire amount for months they can be easily breached. The rent does not stop — nor the need to eat. With families in the mess often associated with losing work it is not hard to get into trouble with Centrelink — and even harder to pay rent and keep the car going.

Young feisty broke teenagers get less than everyone else — but they get no discounts on the basics. They are also more likely to have difficulties reading and writing, be homeless or have problems with accommodation — little patience for bureaucracy and more likely to “breach”.

Without income they prowl the streets looking for an easy earn. A car door left open, maybe a window in an house — a bit of begging. They cannot afford cars and resent those that do and often steal them to get home rather than walking late at night.

Centrelink could pay their rent, as is done in England and their income must be, as their costs, the same as that for pensioners, the disabled and single mothers (still tortured by the impractical requirement to get 14 hours work per week). The funds used for workplace providers can be converted to the creation of real jobs to give real experience and real income.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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