Rudd's unfair 'earn or learn' crackdown

May 8, 2009

PM Kevin Rudd has announced plans for a scheme that will deny youth allowance to unemployed people under 20 years old, unless they are at school or engaged in full-time vocational training.

Not only that, but the parents of young people who don't sign up will not receive the family tax benefit. These draconian measures are not for the benefit of the young people themselves. Rather, they are a strategy to blame young people for the failings of the capitalist economy.

The government has called the scheme "A compact with young Australians". Usually the term "compact" implies a freely entered agreement. Young people, however, won't be asked if they agree to this "compact" or not.

Apparently training positions will be guaranteed to all "participants". Finally, it seems, our government is guaranteeing education and training for young people!

While it might seem encouraging to see the Federal government willing to embark on a major education and training campaign, it is more than discomforting that it has tainted the worthy goal with the brutal threat of poverty.

As the plan stands, there are no considerations for the personal situations of young people who may be affected by this scheme.

The Salvation Army has criticised the plan, saying that it may drive homeless youth to crime and prostitution.

Captain Paul Moulds told AAP: "It is simply not possible to attend training courses or obtain employment when you don't know where you will be sleeping each night."

The 2006 census showed that there were more than 30,000 homeless youth in Australia. Will Rudd and education minister Julia Gillard recognise the position of homeless youth and exempt them from the scheme? It would be the least they could do.

But anti-poverty policies that can really solve homelessness would be much better.

Are Rudd and Gillard really doing this out of concern for young people?

Rudd has certainly tried to spin it in this way. He told the media on April 30: "We cannot allow, and we will not allow, as governments, the skills and training needed by a growing modern economy to skip a generation because of the global recession."

It seems he's more concerned about the economy than he is for the development of young people. Maybe the next quote will absolve him:

"We want them to use this time of economic downturn to get new skills, to prepare themselves to re-engage once the recovery kicks in".

Forget the rounded development of the creative human being; Rudd's motive is just to train more cogs to drive the economy.

Maybe Gillard shows more genuine concern for the young. She told ABC Radio on May 1: "But with creative provision of education, they can be back, back learning, back gaining self-esteem and self-respect, and back gaining opportunities that are going to make a difference for the rest of their lives."

"Creative provision of education"? Does that mean our under-funded education institutions will have to creatively cram more students into their classrooms?

David Williams, of the Victorian TAFE Association, told the Age on May 2 he has concerns that the surge in enrolments resulting from this plan could overwhelm TAFEs. Officially, there are 78,259 people aged 16 to 20 who are not studying, are unemployed and are receiving youth allowance.

"What we're saying to young Australians is sitting around isn't an option", Gillard said. Apparently young unemployed are just a bunch of losers, just sitting around doing nothing.

The government will gladly bend over backwards to bail out corporations, with no strings attached. But when it comes to nurturing the next generation with a guaranteed, useful education, they twin it with a heavy-handed threat to cut off benefits.

What will this training amount to when there are no jobs anyway? The skilled young people will sit at home, still unemployed, eagerly awaiting the end of the recession when they can finally find a job earning ... youth wages.

Young people are expected do their bit by getting a job. But thanks to youth wages, young workers are generally paid less than their older workmates for doing exactly the same jobs! That's a huge disincentive.

According to the May 3 Daily Telegraph, the Federal government is thinking about forcing young unemployed to do military training. If it gets put into action, those made to go to a military "boot camp" will get an extra $2,000 a year.

Conveniently, this will hide youth unemployment figures as well.

Has the government thought about making CEOs and shareholders enter the military before they receive their billions in bailout money?

Once again, it's one of the most disadvantaged groups in society who will bear the brunt of the capitalist downturn.

Rich fat cats are given billions of dollars, while working class youth are offered the "opportunity" to train for the army .

The government's threat to withdraw welfare payments restricts the freedom of young people to make decisions for themselves. It places thousands of homeless and disadvantaged youth in an untenable position.

It also fails to tackle the fundamental causes of youth unemployment — homelessness and domestic problems, lack of rights at work and lack of jobs.

Youth allowance should be increased, not cut back. Those who get youth allowance still live in poverty. It can be as low as just $203.30 a fortnight.

More broadly, a policy of direct government investment in job creation, especially in green sustainable industry, is a better solution that would provide an real future for young people.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.