Australia has a jobs crisis rather than a welfare crisis, according to the Salvation Army’s Economic and Social Impact Survey of nearly 2500 clients.
Current job search and employment service programs are having “little impact on those with significant disadvantage”, its report said.
With respondents overwhelmingly unemployed and on income support the survey found disability and health problems, caring responsibilities, and limited resources for education or job searching “all appear to impede respondents’ ability to gain sustainable employment.
"Additionally, there is a trend of employment decline in many ‘blue collar’ jobs such as manufacturing and mining industries.
"Instead, the biggest employment growth sectors in the next five years are estimated to be those related to higher education, such as health and education industries,” the report said.
Based on the survey results and comments from respondents “such opportunities are unlikely to be realistic or forthcoming” for many in these cohorts “due to lack of financial resources, caring duties and/or disability and health issues”.
The survey found 62% had cut down on basic necessities and 55% had delayed payment of utility bills. One in four was unable to afford a substantial meal at least one a day; nearly three in ten said they had had to live without heating in at least one room in the house throughout winter; almost four in ten did not have regular social contact with people, and more than nine in ten had limited or no savings for emergencies.
The results showed a “harrowing snapshot” of those living on the margins – “vulnerable, difficult lives which The Salvation Army believes are about to get even harder” after the budget. It “reveals a disheartening picture of enduring and entrenched poverty and disadvantage within a core group” in Australia.
Among the barriers to employment was age. Discrimination and a lack of workforce for those over 50 needed to be addressed before implementing any policy to increase the current pension age, the report said. The budget provides for the pension age to go to 70 by 2035.
Without proper intervention, those at risk of long-term unemployment in the next five years - and so at a higher risk of being trapped in long-term poverty - were people on income support or very low incomes; those with health or disability issues or caring for family members with those problems; older workers; and people with limited education, skills or work experience.
The report calls for policies to help these individuals to increase their competitiveness in the changing employment and economic environment.
“It is very unlikely that shifting people to lower rates of income support will increase their workforce participation. On the contrary, such a shift may increase the incidence and the entrenchment of poverty.” The budget says the young unemployed, who will find it harder to get benefits, will be put on the lower youth allowance rather than Newstart.
The Salvation Army’s services were experiencing increasing demand from asylum seekers on bridging visas and refugees “who find themselves in increasing disadvantage and desperation”, the report said.
“Under their visa conditions, the vast majority of asylum seekers have no rights to work or study, and received minimum or no income support payments.”
Children of asylum seekers and refugees “are among those experiencing the highest deprivation … The results strongly support the need to provide financial and social resources to these families in a way that directly addresses their basic human rights and to reduce the level of children’s deprivation”.