Blame the system not the victim

November 12, 2016

You'll all be familiar with the stories about lazy dole bludgers that the commercial media roll out a few days before the federal government announces another cut to welfare payments.

In fact, there is a massive reservoir of people unemployed or underemployed who are desperate for work. This includes people with a disability.

Australia has some of the highest rates of poverty and lowest rates of workforce participation for people with a disability in the developed world.

Officially, about 13% of people with a disability will endure a period of long-term unemployment. However, the true figure is much higher, as people just doing one hour of work a fortnight are not counted, nor are people on the Disability Support Pension.

There are also many thousands of people with mild intellectual disabilities, but with a lot of potential, who are stuck doing very menial jobs at below award wages in sheltered workshops because these are the only jobs they can get.

This miserable reality was confirmed in the recent report Willing to Work prepared for the Human Rights Commission by the Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan.

Only about 17.5% of people supported by the NDIS receive employment assistance and there has been discussion about how to increase this. However, no amount of employment assistance can compensate for jobs that are not there.

The end of the construction phase of the mining boom in Western Australia gives you a sense of what life will be like for the unemployed when the next recession comes to Australia.

My partner works as an employment mentor for people with a disability. Take these two recent experiences: She saw a sign on the street for a general hand in a warehouse but the employer stopped accepting applications later that day after they received 500. A part-time entry level administrative job at a local council was advertised on a Friday and had 800 online applications by the following Monday.

It's in this environment that people with a disability are being pushed off the pension and on to Newstart, and into greater poverty as a consequence, as they are forced to look for jobs that just do not exist.

In a story that is echoed around the country, WA's electricity network Western Power has not put on a single apprentice this year as it prepares for potential privatisation. Heaven forbid that a future owner should be "burdened" with actually bearing some of the cost of training the skilled workforce that will generate their future profits.

We need to create more socially useful, environmentally sustainable and fulfilling jobs for those who need them. There's no shortage of things that need to be done. We need a massive investment in a new "green plan". But that requires a conscious program of wealth redistribution to fund it.

Green Left Weekly exists to build the movement for that kind of change. But to do this we need the support of our readers and subscribers.

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