Can income support for young people get worse?

Issue 

By Maureen Germein and Carla Gorton

The answer is yes. More cuts to Austudy and the Job Search Allowance for young people are planned by the Coalition government.

The August budget included a proposal to amalgamate and rationalise the major forms of income support for young people from 1998, and a "community discussion paper" was released on a Common Youth Allowance (CYA).

Included in the paper are suggestions that: unemployment payments be means tested on parental income until 21 years of age; job seeker payments be reduced to Austudy level; the personal income test for students be lowered to that of the dole ($60 per fortnight); and rent assistance be abolished for unemployed people under 21 (unless they have children). The "community consultation" period has been very short. Submissions and responses on the proposals have been invited, but not actively sought.

Under the former Labor federal government, unemployment benefits for young people were consistently eroded. Payments for 18-20 year olds were reduced to be in line with education allowances. In 1987, unemployment benefits for 16-17 year olds were abolished and replaced with a lower Job Search Allowance, based on parental income testing and not payable for 13 weeks after leaving school.

From 1997, the Coalition plans to increase the age of independence for Austudy back to 25 years. People who were dependent when they started studying will remain so until they finish their studies. This could see people as old as 30 having to provide parental income details in order to qualify for payments.

Migrants will not be eligible for Austudy for two years after becoming permanent residents. The dole has also been attacked through the reduction of rental assistance by a third for single people, and by increasing the time of first breach periods to six weeks.

The proposed change to a CYA will further enforce dependency among young adults, pushing them into lives of poverty and limited opportunities. It will not address issues such as high youth unemployment, disincentives to study and the complicated mess that currently exists as income support in this country.

There are many unanswered questions about the CYA, including how it would apply to apprentices and trainees, who may find themselves covered by it as their wages fall below youth dole levels under the new Modern Australian Apprenticeship and Traineeship system.

A united response from apprentices, young unemployed and students is absolutely necessary. Reducing income support is just another way of forcing young people into low-paid work.

Submissions on the proposals need to be in by October 31 and should be addressed to Assistant Secretary, Youth Bureau, Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, GPO Box 9880, Canberra, ACT 2601.