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Catholic social justice agency Caritas has told a Parliamentary select committee to open its eyes to economic realities in its legislative oversight of government welfare changes.
‘There’s no point extending job queues by asking the ”blind and the lame”, and others in difficulty, to keep on proving they are seeking work,’ says Caritas research and advocacy coordinator Lisa Beech.
‘Increasing the size of the job queues at this time is unreasonable,’ she told the Social Services Select Committee considering the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill this week. ‘Having 400 people in line for 10 supermarket check-out jobs rather than 200 is not going to make more work magically available. But it is making life much harder and more stressful for people.’
Under the Bill, an invalid’s beneficiary who is reclassified as a ‘job-seeker’ will face a cut in income from $256 to $213 a week – effectively a benefit cut of $42 per week.
‘The blind will not see, and the lame will not walk as a result of this legislation,’ Lisa Beech told the Committee, ‘But their incomes will be cut while they are sent out to search for jobs that are simply not there. That is far from being good news for the poor.’
Caritas CEO Julianne Hickey said that Caritas opposed the Bill because, like the Welfare Working Group which preceded the legislation, the Bill focused on the motivation and behaviour of individuals who receive benefits, rather than the economic and structural context of unemployment.
‘Assumptions that the root causes of unemployment are to be found in the behaviour of individuals has resulted in legislation which focuses on individual behavior,’ she said.
Caritas challenged the Select Committee to fulfil its constitutional role as representatives of the Legislature in overseeing the power of Cabinet – the Executive branch of government.
Lisa Beech told the Committee they had not yet been fully informed about the serious concerns of the community to the measures proposed in the Bill, despite three years of engagement by Caritas and many other organisations in the processes of the Welfare Working Group, Alternative Welfare Working Group and the Select Committee process around the first phase of welfare reform.
‘The role of the Select Committee is not merely to rubberstamp decisions of the Executive, or to provide some kind of legal proofreading of minor details of legislation.’
Caritas written and oral submissions on the Bill are available here.
For more information contact Martin de Jong +64-4-496 1782 or +64-21-909 688