The Liberal government has made proposals, which if implemented, would gut the welfare system. Social Services Minister Christian Porter announced a $96-million-dollar scheme to find ways to cut the welfare payments of some of Australia’s most vulnerable and marginalised people.
Those targeted include young carers, young parents and students. Porter’s plan is based on a New Zealand model which left many literally out in the cold – homeless and desperate after their benefits were cut.
Proposals on the table include a mandatory waiting period of a month before people under 25 can receive unemployment benefits. The question of what a young person is to do for a month without support is left unanswered. Unemployed youth would also be forced to attend mandatory job training, with payments suspended for those who are unable to comply.
The government’s proposals follow the recommendations of Patrick McClure, the former chief of the Christian NGO Mission Australia. McClure claims his focus is on returning people back to the workforce, but this is a charade when it is clear that there are just not enough jobs to go around.
The Australian Unemployed Workers Union (AUWU) has compared data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Employment’s job vacancies statistics. This revealed that for the month of August 2016 there were more than 19 unemployed and underemployed people for every vacant job!
With neither the government or employers having a serious plan to create new jobs, this effort to shoehorn people into a non-existent workforce is absurd. In reality it’s a plan to reduce government spending by offloading the costs onto the friends and families of the unemployed.
Ordinary people are not the ones that have created unemployment or underemployment, and therefore they should not have to suffer because of it. Jobs are being cut because employers in the private sector are striving to protect their profits. Public sector jobs are being lost as the government slashes spending in order to reduce taxes for their rich backers.
Alongside saving money, another function of these reforms is to fulfil an ideological belief that welfare must be punitive in nature, and that people must be deterred from even applying for it. This thinking belongs in the 19th century, in the darkest and most vile of places, the poorhouse.
The idea that individuals are responsible for their employment circumstances ignores the systemic nature of unemployment under capitalism. The system relies on the existence of an unemployed mass of people, which Karl Marx called the reserve army of labour. This structural unemployment serves as a device to keep wages as low as possible by maintaining competition between workers for the limited work available.
With unemployment being a component part of capitalism working people should demand that proper jobs are created or they are afforded decent welfare payments.
Being servants of the big business, the major parties have no real interest in solving the problem of unemployment, hence their attempts at band-aid solutions such as cuts to welfare. Only socialist policies can provide solutions to the crisis of unemployment and underemployment.
As an immediate step a socialist government would share out available work, by reducing the working week without loss of pay. At the same time, socially useful jobs would be created for all those who need them by investing in much needed infrastructure – for example, home building programs, schools, hospitals and public transport. Education would also be made free so that people can retrain and acquire new skills.
In the here-and-now we need to oppose all cuts to welfare and fight against job losses, but these immediate fights need to be linked to the need for democratic socialism – the only system capable of using society’s productive forces to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty.
By Dane Letcher