The Guardian 2 November, 2005

Pensioners thrown off benefits

Andrew Jackson

The most destitute Australians living in the poorest areas of the country are set to be hit even harder if Howard's new welfare regime is passed through Parliament later this month. Coupled with Howard's new WorkChoices legislation, this move sets in motion a chain of events designed to impoverish all Australian workers.

Over the next three years alone he Coalition's new laws will throw up to 170,000 people who would have been previously eligible for Disability and Single Parent Pensions onto the much lower NewStart benefit.

As outlined in this year's Budget, the Coalition plans to reduce the "fit to work" barrier for new Disability Support Pension (DSP) claimants from 30 to just 15 hours per week. Single Parent Pensioners will now be moved onto unemployment benefits when their children reach the age of six.

True to the Federal Government's line of providing farcical names to mask its anti-people agenda (think: WorkChoices) the new regime will be titled "Welfare to Work".

The Coalition Government claims that moving people from "Welfare to Work" will naturally make them better off. Yet being forced to accept a low-paying part-time job will actually leave pensioners in a much worse financial position than not working at all.

The stark reality is that from 2006:

  • a person with disability would be $46 per week worse off if jobless, up to $164 worse off if a full-time student, and $93 worse off if earning $200 from a part time-job (on NewStart Allowance or Austudy Payment compared with DSP).

  • a single parent with two children over six years old would be $29 per week worse off if jobless, $60 worse off if a full-time student, and $96 worse off if earning $200 from a part-time job.

    The tragedy of this scheme is that the vast majority of the people affected already live in areas with high unemployment. Their chances of finding a job are not only already extremely limited, but it forces them into competition with the employed and unemployed in a "race to the bottom" to accept jobs with poverty wages and sweatshop conditions.

    Where are they?

    A seat-by-seat analysis produced by the peak welfare body ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Service) has pinpointed the Federal electorate of Lingiari encompassing the whole of the Northern Territory minus Darwin, plus the Christmas and Cocos-Keeling Islands as the hardest hit. Up to four percent of the total population is expected to be further impoverished under the Government's news laws.

    Unsurprisingly, Lingiari also has the highest Aboriginal population in Australia.

    Number five on the list is the seat of Leichhardt in Queensland, which encompasses the whole of the Cape York Peninsular from Cairns northward and thereby dozens of Aboriginal towns and communities and the Torres Strait Islands.

    In fact eight of the top 10 hardest hit electorates are in Queensland, and include almost every seat of outer-metropolitan Brisbane.

    This appears to be mainly due to the flood of pensioners fleeing the increasing rents in Brisbane, as due to the eternal waiting lists they abandon hope of being allocated public housing.

    During a single year (2000), in Queensland, for example, 10 percent of DSP recipients living in Brisbane moved from the city to the fringes, along with 18 percent of Parenting Payment Single recipients.

    Long train of catastrophe

    The Coalition Government's "Welfare to Work" scheme is part of the wider war against the workers of Australia, and it is no coincidence these laws are being introduced at the exact same time as the "WorkChoices" legislation.

    At the same time as single parents and the disabled are forced from pensions onto the lower-paid NewStart unemployment benefit, they will also be forced to sign the harsh and punitive "mutual obligation" contracts, which force them to either accept any job offered or begin study.

    Coupled with Howard's new WorkChoices, single parents and the disabled may find themselves forced to accept "minimum pay and maximum exploitation" AWAs.

    In league with the privately-run Job Search contractors, greedy employers will seek out single parents and the disabled who are forced to accept any job offered and use them to undermine their current workforce.

    The new workers will be offered the rock-bottom AWAs. Existing employees who currently enjoy the relative safety of decent Awards and EBAs will then be told: "Either sign on to the same AWA (and lose everything) or you're out the door".

    Without Unfair Dismissal protection workers will have no choice other than accepting the new employment contract or end up on the dole themselves.

    Their "Mutual Obligation" contract would then force them to accept any job offered, beginning a new cycle of "hire and fire".

    Back to index page