OPINION: Job hunter not dole bludger

Job hunter, not dole bludger has been the catch cry of the month, with the Brotherhood of St Laurence launching a campaign to remind us that looking for work is changing with the globalised modern economy impacting employer expectations.

The latest ABS statistics put unemployment at 5.9 per cent, but Roy Morgan research believes 9.3 per cent is more realistic. That’s over 1.2 million people currently without any form of work. Underemployment has ballooned to over 1.1 million Australians, youth unemployment is consistently more than double the national unemployment rate at over 13 per cent, and mature unemployment rates have doubled since 2010.

These unemployment figures don’t even begin to tell the story. They don’t mention that one in four people claiming Newstart have a significant disability, that just under half the 759,000 Newstart recipients aren’t actually job seekers, or that Newstart Allowance puts families under the poverty line.

Nor do these statistics highlight that only 186,400 jobs are available in the labour market. In fact, the very nature of our economy makes unemployment inevitable as our GDP remains too low to even sustain current employment rates. And yet we, as a society blame and vilify the job seeker when the very economic framework of our nation is predisposed to creating the problem in the first place.

Sewn into this fabric of statistics is the thread of the social story of unemployment. Research indicates that unemployment increases anxiety and depression and is connected to rising suicide rates. Social media is rife with bitter and entitled comments targeting unemployed people as if welfare payments were coming straight out of their pay – in fact, unemployment payments only make up seven per cent of the welfare bill and if you think about it, most of us receive some sort of welfare payment.

Our leaders aren’t helping the social perception of unemployed people by taking an ‘incentivisation’ approach to addressing it with a focus on ‘fixing’ the job seeker. The government’s budget announcement last week that introduced drug testing for people on Newstart and Youth Allowances is further evidence of the vilification of the job seeker.

This idea of drug testing job seekers is one that has been floated with varying degrees of vitriol for years. However, both New Zealand and the US have trialled drug testing welfare recipients with resounding failure resulting.

While the budget report claimed that the tests would be carried out randomly, it also stated that they would profile welfare recipients to identify the job seekers at higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse for testing. My concern here is that government is addressing a social and medical issue with financial punishment.

People who are addicted to drugs and their families need support: they are among our most vulnerable members of society. While drug-taking is illegal, there has to be a better way to deal with the issue than stripping their financial choices, which will ultimately increase family stress and likely lead to a growth in crime rates.

Our sense of mateship, it seems, is evaporating as we race to judge and condescend to those who have walked a different path. I cannot help but be reminded of Thomas More here – are we not ‘creating thieves and then punishing them’? We need to shed the stereotype and myths surrounding the unemployed person and see them as they are: a human being and not a demonised failure in need of incentives and ‘fixing’.

Zoë Wundenberg, www.impressability.com.au