Some choice quotes:
Many economic experts and social welfare groups have argued that the payments are
actually so low they hinder people in their efforts to find work and move forward with
Over 500,000 people [rely] on an unemployment benefit of just $244 per week. That's more than $130 under the poverty line; it's merely 45 per cent of the minimum wage
Not one of [those I spoke to] said to me that Newstart is what they want for their lives, or for their family... I actually think it is insulting to claim that a person would willingly forgo employment to live significantly below the poverty line.
As far back as 2009, Secretary to the Treasury Ken Henry told the ACOSS National Conference: 'The taxtransfer system is the principal means of expressing societal choices about equity. The taxtransfer system is a reflection of the kind of society we aspire to be'.
I certainly don't believe it is okay to condemn people to poverty, to encourage shame and social isolation, or to punish them while they search for a 'new start'.
Years of both old parties stirring up fear about welfare cheats and dismantling our social support system has left ordinary Australians with a safety net so low that it barely functions at all. Is this the kind of society we aspire to be?
Bravo! This is fantastic stuff. The idea that people choose to live in poverty and marginalisation is absurd, yet it is the core argument made of the right-wing nuts who seem to have taken over society. When they call for welfare cuts, saying "We just can't afford it!" (I know a semi-articulate half-wit who parrots Alan Jones' opinions like this), they are using a false dichotomy. They are saying "We've tried welfare, and it doesn't work, so we have to start being cruel to be kind". The problem is that this kind of welfare has been disingenuous all along, because it's so paranoid that people are living it up on $244 of unearned money.
There are serious social and economic reasons for not continuing down this road of paranoid, not-on-my-tax-dollar capitalism. Economically, if we are not at the end of the resources boom (as Resources Minister Martin Fergusson said we are, recently), then we will arrive their one day, through external economic circumstances. What have we built as a *society* (not merely an economy) out of that? We've taxed very little of it, while at the same time, we've been busy destroying and privatising education, and we've withdrawn from manufacturing. In other words, we manufacture very little, and we are quite incapable of designing much. We currently are not capable of being a first-world, intelligent, value-adding economy.
As a friend pointed out to me, the US went from a predominantly agricultural industry, to manufacturing, and then on to a services based economy -- the centrality of financial services to that is problematic. What has happened in Australia? We've skipped the middle bit. Universities are still flogging of degrees for the financial services sector, and more and more seem to be setting up elitist management schools offering MBAs. These are all experts in an unsustainable economic status quo, amounting to both a bubble economy, and a brain drain that undermines real value-added industry.
The stupid irony of this is that solution is meritocracy, but meritocracy is that is being fought against by people who think that giving people a chance to build a life out of nothing that others take for granted is indulging cheats. So what do we do when we need to prop up token sector of the smart economy? We have to *import*professionals*. (Certainly it's my experience that physics is perhaps predominantly full of foreign professionals.) In other words, lest we give people who need it the Fair Go Australia loudly prides itself on, we import professionals. Aside from displacing opportunities for young Australians, this also acts as a brain drain on the countries that these professionals are coming from. And then what happens? The same stupid idiots who have to be placated by denying anyone who deserves it a Fair Go (the Catch-22 of the Fair Go is that if you need it, then you don't deserve it), then enact their racism against immigrants. It's a vicious cycle of Aussie stupidity that has governments by the gonads.
As a society we have to recognise this before the resource boom ends and the property bubble ends and all hell breaks loose. If we don't, expect to hear the shrill voice half-wits shouting battle cries as an overt war against the poor commences.
Hmmm.... Actually, who am I kidding: we're well and truly there. Gillard has said she wants to cut DSP by 40% and introduce a disability insurance scheme which, despite right wing opinion, is really the vehicle for cutting DSP. Now Allan Coop tells us the Canberra rumour mill says that Newstart will be replaced by an unemployment insurance scheme -- a superannuation for unemployment. The shrill, "We can't afford it!" voices justifying this mean such measures are surely something we imagine doesn't happen here, only in other countries: they're austerity measures. Let's start calling them that.
The truth is, what we can't afford is this duplicitious insincere approach to welfare. We can't afford to deny people their ability to reach their full potential, based on the assumption that they're trying to cheat the contented majority with their poverty-stricken lives. We can't afford to keep wasting our most precious resource, human capital, just so that the contented majority don't have their delusional, heroic narratives threatened.