On Tuesday, Social Services Minister Christian Porter outlined a plan to reduce intergenerational welfare dependency through an investment approach to welfare reform. This identifies groups most at risk of falling into the ‘welfare trap’ with the aim of helping them enter the workforce.
UnitingCare Australia’s acting national director Martin J Cowling said the introduction of an evidenced-based system has the potential to achieve much-needed reform.
“Too often in the past, programs have been introduced with good intentions but little evidence to back them up. Not surprisingly, the results have been disappointing, if not counter-productive,” he said.
“UnitingCare Australia believes that a well-implemented Try, Test and Learn Fund offers the potential for meaningful reform and lasting improvements.”
The new $96 million fund will finance innovative programs aimed at helping vulnerable groups move from welfare payments to secure employment. The fund is open to not-for-profits, state governments, academics and other industry stakeholders.
“Our services have significant experience in working with people experiencing disadvantage, including long term unemployment,” Mr Cowling said.
“We are keen to work with government and other stakeholders to put forward innovative solutions and employment programs and pathways.”
However, not all welfare organisations are supportive of Mr Porter’s proposal. Dr John Falzon, CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society of Australia, wrote in Guardian Australia this week that the government’s approach to poverty shifts the focus away from the structural causes of unemployment.
“Australia does not have a welfare problem. We have a poverty problem and an inequality problem, but you know that these problems are going to be ignored when the dominant discourse focuses our attention on the ‘welfare problem’,” he wrote.
“We continue to fall into the ideological trap of either pathologising or criminalising people who sin against the dominant moral code by not being ‘self-reliant’ in the marketplace.”
Dr Falzon believes the government needs to invest in jobs, education, housing and health rather than focus on just “getting people off welfare”.
This was echoed by Mr Cowling, who said it was important disadvantaged and vulnerable people do not become scapegoats in conversations about welfare.
“Poverty and inequality are not life choices. While evidence-based programs are an essential element of welfare provision, they are not in themselves sufficient to overcome long-term structural problems such as multi-generational unemployment,” Mr Cowling said.
“This is especially the case if funding for the program is obtained by cutting funding to other vital welfare programs.
“The goal is to shift people off welfare and into a positive future, not simply to shift them off welfare.”