Response to the Interim Report of the Reference Group on Welfare Reform

Jobs Australia welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion. The Interim report of the Reference Group on Welfare Reform raises many important issues. Unemployment – and, particularly, long-term unemployment – is a complex economic and social problem, with many different factors affecting the success or otherwise of interventions that aim to assist more people into work. The breadth of issues covered by the report reflects that complexity.

In this submission, we will offer some general remarks (Part 1) and then provide more detailed responses to specific questions (Part 2).

Executive Summary

Jobs Australia expresses support for many of the observations and proposals in the Interim Report. Jobs Australia also expresses concern on many aspects of the Interim Report. Many of the proposals appear to be responding to an unstated concern about the overall cost of the system. That is despite evidence, which is included in the Appendices to the Interim Report, showing that welfare dependency amongst the working age population has decreased substantially over the past two decades.

The starting point for Jobs Australia is that income support payments should be adequate to meet people’s income support needs – providing them with a basic but acceptable (and not impoverished) standard of living.

The quid pro quo for income support is engagement with appropriate services, including, for those who are able to work, employment services. Again, services should be based on need, with those who require the greatest level of assistance receiving the greatest level of service.

Beyond these general principles, Jobs Australia has argued for a dramatic change to Rent Assistance, noting that it fails to meet the housing support needs for most people, particularly those in strong labour markets where rents are highest.

Jobs Australia has also welcomed new approaches to targeting interventions, such as the New Zealand actuarial or investment approach.

And finally, for employment services, Jobs Australia has argued for increased flexibility, warning that governments should steer away from the temptation to mandate specific interventions across broad sections of the population – for the simple reason that a more tailored approach will work better for more people than one that does the same thing for everyone, whether they need it or not.