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'A life of idleness' on work for the dole

By Tim Grey-Smith

The Coalition government's work for the dole scheme forces young people who have been unemployed for more than six months to do manual labour in order to receive their pittance of a dole payment. The scheme is nothing new: Aboriginal people have been made to work for the dole for years.

Now the government is proposing to enforce it on all school leavers who aren't in full-time work or study within three months.

Of course, the scheme is marketed using terms like "mutual obligation", "work experience" and "confidence building". But work for the dole is simply repression, and it blames individual unemployed people for the social problem of unemployment.

According to federal employment services minister Tony Abbott, the government aims to "explode the idea that society owes us a living. A life of idleness is just not an option any more."

More ominously, he added: "Over time, the work for the dole scheme, together with the common youth allowance, will change the culture that currently exists and get people back to work."

The government's intention is certainly to "change the culture" — to change the idea that work and access to welfare payments are rights, not privileges. It has nothing to do with getting unemployed young people "back to work".

The Coalition puts us to work for appalling pay, doing jobs that might otherwise be unprofitable for the companies involved. Often, however, when businesses take on work for the dole conscripts, potential or existing full-paid jobs are being replaced.

The main incentive for the conscripts is supposed to be "training" and "rebuilding confidence". However, most of the schemes involve basic manual labour, with little emphasis on skill development: "landscaping" turns out to be simply weeding, and "urban beautification" is painting park benches.

An added incentive is an extra $20 a fortnight ($1.42 a day) in your dole payment. This extra money doesn't even cover the cost of transport to and from your "chosen workplace".

And at the end of six months, you also get a certificate (ready to frame!) recording your "contribution".

The youth allowance payment is totally insufficient, and work for the dole does nothing to change that.

The NSW Social Policy Research Centre has found that a single person paying rent needs an income of at least $290 per week to maintain "a standard of living which may require frugal and careful management of resources, but would still allow social and economic participation consistent with community standards". The youth allowance for an independent young person is only 45% of this. An independent young person on the work for the dole scheme would receive 48% of what is needed.

It's not surprising that in the government's pilot projects for work for the dole, around half the participants had to be threatened with having their payment cut off before they would allow themselves to be conscripted into the scheme.

There are no real jobs created by work for the dole. It is no more — and no less — than an attempt to scapegoat the unemployed for their plight and use them as cheap labour.

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