Work for the dole scheme 'punishing'

The federal government's tightening of the work for the dole program seems aimed more at punishing unemployed people than helping them, a welfare rights solicitor said.

The changes effectively make work for the dole mandatory for unemployed people aged up to 49 and also push them to apply for more jobs each week.

"Most job seekers will be required to look for up to 40 jobs per month and most job seekers under 50 years of age will be required to participate in work for the dole for either 15 or 25 hours per week for six months each year, depending on their age," Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker said.

The changes will be rolled out nationwide from July 1, 2015 but they are already in place in the Shoalhaven, which is one of 18 trial sites for the mandatory work for the dole program.

The sites were chosen because of their higher than average levels of unemployment. Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the unemployment rate for Shoalhaven has been as high as 8.9 per cent this year.

Illawarra Legal Centre welfare rights solicitor Ian Turton said work for the dole can be valuable for helping the long-term unemployed find a job but he was concerned about the expansion of the program.

"There are a lot of useful and good things that can be done but it's not meant to be punitive, or a punishment, and this is starting to smell like 'we're not going to give you much money and we're going to make you work long hours in the sun for the small amount of money we give you'," he said.

The federal government lists work for the dole placements will include: retail work in not-for-profit stores, gardening or maintenance activities in schools or aged-care facilities and rehabilitation works of public parks and roadways.

But Mr Turton raised concerns that retrenched workers in their 40s may not be healthy enough to carry out many of these placements.

On top of as much as 25 hours a week work for what Mr Turton said was less than one day's wage, he was also concerned about the requirement to look for 40 jobs a month - or 10 every week.

"If you look around the Illawarra, there have to be the jobs there for people to apply for.

"I'm starting to wonder how people are going to be able to meet their obligations if they have to apply for so many jobs."

He felt it would force people to waste their time by applying for jobs they were not qualified for, just to ensure their benefits were not cut off.

He said the image of the dole bludger relaxing on the lounge in comfort was a myth, and Newstart is not enough to live on.

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