In a speech to the Sydney Institute this week, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge described how the government would implement the fourth stage of its welfare overhaul.
“We must face the reality that in our desire to be a generous and caring society we may have reached a point where we have taken our good intentions too far, and are now causing harm,” he said.
Tudge plans to further tighten access to welfare benefits such as Newstart allowance, using the logic that providing financial assistance to impoverished people doesn’t actually reduce the number of impoverished people.
But is our welfare system really more generous now than in the past?
Timeline of changes to unemployment benefits
1945 — The Unemployment Benefit (UB) introduced into Australia.
Eligibility required that a person had been living in Australia for at least 12 months. If their unemployment was voluntary or the result of a strike, a short wait period could apply at the Director-General’s discretion. The waiting period was one week.
1973 — Junior rates for people under 18 removed. UB now the same rate as pensions.
1975 — Junior rates re-introduced.
1976 — UB becomes taxable. Definition or “Suitable work” changed.
It was considered suitable that unmarried people over the age of 18 should relocate to cities, if necessary, for work. A work test could be failed, resulting in cessation of benefits, if a person was of unacceptable appearance or dress. People with an education or job skills were expected to accept unskilled work after a six-week period, even if this meant a decrease in wage or “status”.
1977 — Wait time increased for new applicants.
Wait period increased to two weeks. Recent school-leavers subject to a six-week wait period.
1979 — Tightening of the work test.
Beneficiaries expected to accept casual, short-term temporary or part-time work provided it paid the appropriate minimum wage. Beneficiaries to be interviewed at least once every three months.
“Suitable work” definition expanded to include jobs where costs of travel were 10% or less of a person’s wage.
Mandatory six- to 12-week wait period for those who voluntarily left their previous job or were involved in industrial action.
1985 — New rate structure. Adult rate now payable at 21 instead of 18.
1987 — Income reporting obligations tightened.
Wait periods increased to 12-13 weeks for school-leavers, people who left their job voluntarily and those involved in industrial strikes.
Young beneficiaries eligibility now reviewed after 12 months.
1988 — Payments reduced for juniors, now called Job Search Allowance (JSA), which was paid only subject to regular interviews.
1989 — UB recipients now to expected to accent any job within their capacity. Long-term recipients subject to regular interviews and re-assessment of eligibility.
1991 — Newstart, the Active Employment Strategy replaces UB and JSA.
Substantial increase in the obligations of job seekers, including the requirement to undertake monitored job searches and applications, vocational training, labour market program participation, paid work experience, job search training or training to reduce labour market disadvantage. Benefits would cease if participation requirements were not met.
1995 — Introduction of intensive case management.
Recipients required to undertake training, education and work experience placements upon the direction of a third party job provider agency.
1996 — Sick or injured welfare recipients expected to participate in job seeking activities unless a medical certificate stated they were completely incapacitated at that time.
1997 — Work for the dole program introduced, further tightening job-seeking requirement.
After six months on Newstart, recipients must participate in an approved job-seeking activity in order to receive payments. Approved activities include voluntary work, unpaid work experience, part-time work or training with a government accredited provider. Activity must be organised or approved by a third party employment service provider regularly breached job search requirements.
Definition of “unsuitable paid work” for job seekers modified. Lack of qualifications, skills or experience no longer made work unsuitable.
Newly Arrived Residents face waiting period of 104 weeks.
2001 — Overpayments caused by administrative error became recoverable debts.
2003 — Australians Working Together program introduced.
Payment to cease if a recipient failed to start a job as planned, declined job interview offer, became voluntarily unemployed, dismissed from employment for misconduct, knowingly or recklessly declared incorrect earnings from employment or failed to submit a satisfactory jobseeker diary.
2006 — Recipients with a disability now expected to work 15 hours a week subject to medical certificate approval.
Long-term unemployed people could be required to undertake full-time work for the dole for 50 hours a fortnight, for a maximum period of six months a year.
2011 — Immediate suspension of payments for job-seeker failing to attend a scheduled appointment or activity. Payment reinstate once appointment a re-scheduled appointment.
2015 — Stronger penalties for non-compliance.
People deemed to be non-compliant in their job-seeking activities can have their payments terminated for up to six months.
Both Treasurer Scott Morrison, and Tudge’s office were unavailable for comment.