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Friday, 1 August 2014

Welfare recipients aren't bludgers, and they deserve respect from Joe Hockey | Anthony Albanese | Comment is free |

Welfare recipients aren't bludgers, and they deserve respect from Joe Hockey | Anthony Albanese | Comment is free |

Welfare recipients aren't bludgers, and they deserve respect from Joe Hockey

whose marriage broke down, or who are living with a mental illness, or
who need help to improve their lives, shouldn’t be treated with

joe hockey
‘I’m losing count of this government’s attacks on people in receipt of a government benefit.’ Photograph: /AAP

The search for a scapegoat, according to former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.

we learn more about the political narrative of the Abbott government, I
worry that Tony Abbott’s zeal to appear tough is causing him to hunt
those with the least power to defend themselves – pensioners and the

I’m losing count of this government’s attacks on
people in receipt of a government benefit. Disability pensioners are
being targeted regularly, with newspaper reports creating anxiety that they will be cast aside. At the same time the government is cutting health funding, something of critical interest to people with disabilities or chronic illness.

Unemployed people are told they have to fill out 40 job applications
a month or lose the dole. At the same time the government has reduced
spending on training. Programmes like Youth Connections, that enabled
disadvantaged young people to move through education to work, have been cut.
Cuts to apprenticeship support are short-sighted and cost not just
individuals; but the economy as a whole. A skilled workforce is a
productive workforce.

I’m sick of hearing Joe Hockey beat his
chest and declare the end of “the age of entitlement’’. It’s a term that
comes with the unspoken suggestion that recipients of government
assistance are somehow conniving to receive something to which they are
not entitled.

The introduction of this type of scapegoat
terminology – designed to malign all welfare recipients – has encouraged
tabloid newspapers and radio shock jocks to resort to terms like
“bludgers’’ and “rorters’’.

The truth is that most welfare
recipients are not bludgers but honest people doing their best in
difficult circumstances. It’s time for a more serious debate on welfare –
one that goes beyond dog whistling and demonisation of the poor.

a society, we owe it to ourselves to help people work if they can.
There is dignity in work, as well as empowerment. Higher workforce
participation reduces the call on the public purse and also generates
greater economic growth – a benefit to the entire nation.

we need to abandon the ugly rhetoric and start from the proposition
that there are people who aren’t in the workforce through no fault of
their own. If we put aside politics for just a moment, most people would
accept that our shared values of decency demand that people down on
their luck receive support rather than vilification.

Maybe their
marriage broke down and they are struggling to raise children alone.
Maybe they are sick and genuinely unable to work. Maybe they have a
mental illness. Maybe they are homeless. Perhaps they are over 50 years
of age and have been made redundant and are unable to find anyone who
will give them a shot at a second career.

Whatever their
circumstances, people receiving welfare deserve neither disrespect, nor
this government’s transparent attempts to punish them for their
misfortune, with ever more tests to maintain their payments.

of people in my electorate in Sydney’s inner west are on disability
pensions because they are literally unable to work. Many sole parents
would love to work but their circumstances and their responsibility to
raise their children make work difficult. Such people endure a daily
struggle to overcome their circumstances and raise their children to
become educated so they can escape the poverty trap.

something to be applauded. Instead, the current rhetoric of the
government tries to make people feel as though they’re lazy or
burdensome. That’s just not fair. It is completely disrespectful. The
approach of the current government appears to be punitive, rather than
helpful. The very last thing elected representatives should do is
encourage working Australians to treat welfare recipients with suspicion
or hatred.

The former Labor government faced the same issues
about the structure of the workforce as those being grappled with now by
Abbott. Sometimes Labor got it wrong – such as with the extension of
the Howard government’s changes moving more single parents onto the
Newstart program.

Entrenched unemployment and welfare dependence
are very difficult to address in a policy sense. Labor’s starting point
was and remains that people who are disadvantaged need help, not
character analysis from politicians looking for headlines.

role of government in this area is to provide opportunity through better
education and training options, and ensure jobs are available through
economic growth. Yet the Abbott government seems unable to discuss these
issues without treating such people as cannon fodder in its rhetorical
war against any and all government spending.

Earlier in the year
Hockey, anxious to demonstrate his desire to end the age of entitlement,
complained that some single mothers could access up to $55,000 a year
in benefits. As it turned out, the Department of Human Services refused
to endorse the figure.

In any event, one of the benefits the
treasurer used to reach this figure was the jobs education and training
child care fee assistance, worth up to $15,120 and designed to help
single parents access child care while they attend university to make
themselves employable.

Hockey wants to have it both ways. He
wants to attack single mums for being unemployed and then attack them
again if they dare to access government benefits designed to make them
employable. His unspoken message to these parents is that they should
feel bad about trying to improve their circumstances.

treasurer seems to be more interested in promoting resentment of single
mothers than in actually helping them into the workforce. Elected
representatives need to understand that whenever they attack pension
recipients in the hope that this will jolt them into the workforce,
their comments have the reverse effect.

Being told indirectly that
you are a lazy piece of scum malingering on the public purse does
little to improve a person’s confidence, so important to attaining
employment. No-one deserves to feel attacked in this way. As another
former US President, Bill Clinton once said: “‘We’re all in this
together’ is a better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own’.”

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