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Credits: Gabrielle Henderson

Calls to fix broken employment services for hundreds of thousands

Seven months after a scathing report exposed flaws in Australia’s employment services system, advocates say the government’s response fails to address critical issues and leaves hundreds of thousands unemployed with little hope.

The Hill Report offered a comprehensive plan for overhauling the employment services system, the government’s response has been criticized for failing to address the significant harm experienced by those dependent on the system.

“The current employment services model is inflicting serious harm while failing to help 900,000 people who are unemployed find work,” said Dr. Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).

While some changes outlined in the May budget represented small steps forward, the government has not taken urgent action to prevent harm or provide a clear roadmap for the necessary reforms, Dr. Goldie emphasized. “Today’s response is deeply disappointing,” she added.

ACOSS highlighted that nearly two-thirds of the affected individuals have had to rely on income support for over a year, indicating that the current employment services are not effective.

ACOSS is calling for firm commitments from the government to end automated payment suspensions, create an independent body to lift standards, invest in a substantial national wage subsidy and work experience scheme, and establish a national council comprised of people using employment services to advise the Minister on reforms.

“Automated payment suspensions repeat the failures of robodebt and should be scrapped immediately, alongside punitive and ineffective programs like Work for the Dole,” Dr. Goldie stated. She argued that decisions affecting someone’s income support should involve public servants who follow a fair process that considers an individual’s circumstances.

Data from the last quarter of 2023 reveals the severity of the issue: 259,000 people were threatened with the loss of income support, and payments for 193,000 people were subsequently suspended. Often, people were cut off for trivial reasons, such as missing appointments they were unaware of. Notably, First Nations people (24%) and people with disabilities (27%) were disproportionately affected.

To ensure accountability, ACOSS advocates for an independent quality assurance body to oversee providers, including people directly impacted by the services. Additionally, large-scale vocational training and wage subsidy programs, along with partnerships between governments, providers, and local community services, are necessary to help long-term unemployed individuals find paid work.

“The lack of progress on key recommendations after seven months is disappointing. The government’s response lacks the substance and ambition needed to ensure employment services work for those who rely on them,” Dr. Goldie remarked.

Dr. Goldie also stressed the importance of raising the rate of JobSeeker and related income support payments to at least the pension rate of $78 a day. “We cannot expect people to afford the essentials of life or find work when they are languishing below the poverty line,” she concluded.

The Hill Report laid out a blueprint for comprehensive reform, but the government’s tepid response has left many of its critical recommendations unaddressed. As ACOSS continues to push for meaningful change, the urgency of the situation remains clear for the hundreds of thousands struggling within the current system.

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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