By Joanne Wilson
Anyone who is on unemployment benefits at the moment, and particularly any young person, would know that just to stay on Newstart is fast becoming a full-time job. (Which is just as well, really, because there aren't any others out there.)
The funny thing is that I never intended to apply for this "job". The pay isn't very good and the stress levels and occupational hazards are pretty full on.
Since the new computer system was introduced in May, I have had my payments suspended for a total of around three months because of staff or computer errors. I have been cut off seven times in the last six weeks.
My form has been sent to the wrong suburb; I've had appointments scheduled that I'm not supposed to have and with the wrong people; I've acquired around a million dollars in assets and three children with the swift click of a keyboard.
Sometimes I've had to go back three times to get restored because there aren't enough appointments, or staff don't have the time, or because the computer system is malfunctioning. And I'm not the only one. Every time I go in, there is a shouting match, or someone jumps the counter.
Now I've been told that I'm not doing enough to deserve my benefits. We were told that it was now law that we had to do an extra approved activity in order to maintain the "privilege" of getting the dole.
"Mutual obligation" is compulsory if you are aged 18-24 and have been receiving benefits for six months. You are required to take on part-time work or study, to do voluntary work or work for the dole.
The major two activities in the last two options are serving tea in nursing homes or doing maintenance on Centrelink offices. It makes me wonder why the government has cut so many jobs in Centrelink and social services if there is so much work to do. A further 5000 Centrelink jobs are about to go.
Somehow I thought that expressing an ethical objection to this whole process was not going to get me very far. So it looks inevitable that my duties are going to be increased with no increase in pay. (Actually, if I work for the dole for 30 hours a fortnight, I get an extra $20. That wouldn't even cover my transport costs to and from Centrelink.)
Sitting in the waiting room some days, you can feel the air bristling with hostility. It makes me wonder what could happen if staff and "clients" united and all this hostility was directed where it should be — at the law-makers and legislators and the businesses that cut jobs and don't pay the taxes they should. I think the revolution could start in Centrelink.