June 30, 2014
The Coalition's rhetoric around welfare reform is harsh.
It says that Australia's welfare system is unsustainable (even though the welfare state is actually shrinking). The rhetoric says that it is unfair to keep a welfare system intact that is not encouraging participation and personal responsibility. It is up to individuals in the community to accept responsibility for their lives and their destiny.
Reform is needed, this rhetoric holds, because the long-term unemployed and the disabled are deemed by the politicians to be part of a "something-for-nothing culture". The receipt of benefits is a lifestyle choice that breeds intergenerational poverty, imposes a burden on the taxpayer, and constitutes a national crisis. Poverty is the result of people making the wrong choices and not working hard.
In this neo-liberal ‘workfare’ rhetoric welfare is a term of abuse whilst the blaming and shaming is designed to encourage or "nudge" people into changing their behaviour by getting a job. Even though the neo-liberals know that most poverty is caused by economic factors over which individuals have little or no control, they continue to say that the "leaners" are the cause of their own misfortune because they didn't put in the hard yards to get ahead and improve themselves. The recipients’ of welfare have a social obligation to prove themselves worthy beneficiaries.
This rhetoric of ‘personal responsibility’ that lies behind the ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’ slogan justifies a neo-liberal interpretation of the welfare reform that proposes to streamline benefits into four or five types of payments, the expansion of Work for the Dole, income management and the tightening of criteria for disability carers payments. The proposals in the review's interim report, are to shift people with disabilities onto a "working age payment" and quarantine the disability support pension (DSP) for those with permanent disabilities,
For neo-liberals, the welfare state is a threat to freedom, is ineffective and inefficient and is economically, politically and socially damaging. It distorts family responsibility, destabilises the family and creates dependency. So the social democratic notion that the welfare state was designed to prevent poverty is transformed into the system actually discouraging work. Hence the idea of the deserving poor: those willing to work hard and play by the rules of taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the market.
The interim report of the Review of Australia’s Welfare System, led by former Mission Australia CEO Patrick McClure, assumes that everyone who has some capacity to work should work and that economic growth is the best means to counter unemployment. It is the individual's responsibility to acquire the necessary skills to prevent the tendency to degenerate into unemployability caused by shrinking employment opportunities for low-skill workers.
Consequently the prime purpose of social welfare is to set such people on course for obtaining employment through targeted and individualised assistance as well as appropriate education and training, especially linked to local employment opportunities. Ye the Coalition has been cutting training programs, cutting TAFE's budget and making higher education much more expensive. What if the jobs are not there for people with disabilities to move into? Then people should work for free as volunteers. Is there is even enough unpaid volunteer work to viably engage very many of the disabled especially when you consider the extra support that many of the disabled would need to be able to work at all?