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Issue #1646      July, 9, 2014


Class attack

Kevin Andrews, the former Howard Minister who brought in the horrendous anti-worker, anti-union WorkChoices, has carriage of the Coalition government’s “end of the age of entitlement” agenda. He is now the Minister for Social Services – a job without a future if the government’s policies are implemented. The Murdoch and other media are backing the government’s offensive, stigmatising and demonising welfare recipients as bludgers, slackers, rorters, leaning on society (not “lifters”), as undeserving and to blame for their own position of disadvantage.

The 2014-15 budget began the government’s offensive on the “leaners” but revealed its true, ruling class colours, when it came to more corporate tax cuts, the new “help the rich” parental leave system, a boost in military spending from around $30 billion to $40 billion and continuation of the fossil fuel rebate for mining companies.

Treasurer Joe Hockey made it clear that the social welfare cuts in the budget were only the beginning. Abbott last week released an interim report from a group tasked to carry out a welfare review for the government, A new System for Better Employment and Social Outcomes.

The group’s chair, Patrick McClure, in keeping with most of the other Abbott government appointments, is a devout Catholic and former CEO of St Vincent de Paul and Mission Australia. “We need to stop the revolving door of homelessness and poverty and move them into supported accommodation, assist them with rehabilitation if they have problems with alcohol and drugs, and get them back into the mainstream. “If there’s the will of the government, the will of business community and the wider community to care for those most vulnerable, we can do anything.” (The Catholic Weekly, 23-03-2003)

These sentiments are expressed throughout the interim report. The report relies heavily on businesses showing social responsibility and employing people with mental illness and other disabilities but fails to back them with details on funding and staffing. After all, one of the main aims of the government in holding the review is to reduce social welfare costs. McClure speaks in terms of a “strong emphasis on incentives to work”, reinforcing the bludger or rorter image.

It looks at how to reduce the number of people on the disability pension payment or its replacement. “Thirty percent of people on a disability support pension are people with mental health conditions and these conditions are often episodic in nature, for example severe depression or anxiety. In talking with experts in the field … what they recommend is a vocational rehabilitation approach, which makes sense when you think about it,” the review says.

It proposes “a simpler and sustainable” payment system with four basic types of payment with allowances individually based. This lays the basis for reclassifying recipients, changing eligibility requirements and hiding cuts to payments. They will not eliminate the huge inequalities between different types of benefits such as carers, unemployed, age pensioners, etc. The age pension would remain for those still eligible. There would be a “tiered working age payment”, “different tiers of payment could take account of individual circumstances, such as partial capacity to work, parental responsibilities or limitations on availability for work because of caring.” It could also widen the gap between different recipients as people moved up or down the tiers.

“A Disability Support Pension would be reserved only for people with a permanent impairment and no capacity to work.” Those, such as with psychological or psychiatric illness whose episodes and incapacity to work is deemed to be episodic, will be thrown into the nightmare of Job Search, loss of income, compounding their already existing disabilities, hardly speeding up entry to non-existence jobs.

The fourth benefit would be a child payment – “a simpler child payment structure could bring together Family Tax Benefit Part A, Youth Allowance, ABSTUDY and other payments for dependent children and young people.” Again, creating a smokescreen for reducing benefits and, toughening eligibility requirements.

The government has shut down the position of Disability Discrimination Commissioner. The sacked Commissioner Graeme Innes noted in a speech to the National Press Club last week that, “Forty-five percent of us live in poverty, we rank last among OECD countries on this score… And while the recent budget makes welfare harder to get for us … there is no plan to get us off welfare and into work. Changes proposed just last weekend [McClure report – Ed] will place people with episodic disabilities on a different – probably lower – allowance, but there is still no effective jobs plan. Again, we are blocked from being lifters.”

Next article – Defence cleaners left hanging

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