Thursday, December 2, 2021

Australia’s “lower class” don’t like work? Our research shows that vulnerable job seekers are not getting the help they need

Former New South Wales minister Pru ​​Howard wrote a column in the Australian Financial Review last week about Australia’s “poor,” who she said are lazy, dysfunctional and dislike “discipline” at work.

Proponents of the fight against poverty denounced this as worrying, but it was not terribly surprising. Australia has a long history of stigmatizing the unemployed.

The idea that the unemployed are embarrassed to work is also expressed in one of the catchphrases of Prime Minister Scott Morrison: “The best form of social security is work.” But this is not always an unambiguous proposal.

In our upcoming book, Buying and Selling the Poor, we tell the story of the offices and frontline employees who work with the most vulnerable job seekers.

We wanted to find out why some recruitment agencies are better at helping low-income people find work, given that the social security and employment system has such a high failure rate when it comes to the long-term unemployed.

Welfare-to-Work in Australia

Australia has the only fully privatized social security and employment system in the world. It is a multibillion-dollar industry with some 40 private agencies that help job seekers work “ready to go” through training and face-to-face meetings with business managers.

To receive unemployment benefits, you must also be looking for a job.
Dan Peled / AAP

The system has a reputation for being effective, with a 2019 parliamentary report indicating that more than a million people have been employed since mid-2015. Indeed, most of those receiving unemployment benefits (unemployment) are only temporarily out of work due to factors such as layoffs, an economic downturn in their industry, or the nature of precarious work.

But there are also hundreds of thousands of Australians for whom unemployment lasts for years. These are people who may have been out of work for a long time due to care responsibilities, disability or illness. Others may have limited education or complex problems such as addiction or homelessness.

According to the Reserve Bank in December 2020, approximately one in five unemployed persons has been unemployed for more than a year. Ten years ago, this figure was about one in eight.

Our research

Our study was based on four employment agencies that performed “well” in terms of recruiting the long-term unemployed. This included one in the suburbs of Melbourne, one in outer Melbourne, another in central Melbourne, and a fourth in regional New South Wales.

All four offices were ranked among the top employment services in Victoria and NSW based on the proportion of clients they recruited 26 weeks or more in the year prior to our survey (according to government figures).

For over 18 months from late 2016 to early 2018, we sat in these offices, observing and documenting all interactions over the course of several days. We interviewed agency staff and tracked about 100 disadvantaged clients (namely, job seekers who were rated by Centrelink as the least “ready to work” and therefore most in need of employment support).

There is no single winning formula

Our research has shown that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for helping the most disadvantaged job seekers.

Some offices demonstrated a high level of teamwork (colleagues actively helped each other with clients), while others were more experienced in dealing with employers and took advantage of the proximity to light industry centers and a good supply of suitable jobs.



Read More: Our Research Shows More Australians Get Unemployment Benefit Than You Think


But overall, the picture shows a relatively marginal return. The difference between an “average” and “outstanding” service provider for highly disadvantaged job seekers (based on government data) can be as small as assigning one or two additional people to a job they hold for 26 weeks …

This suggests that the Australian system continues to be largely unable to provide reliable assistance to vulnerable job seekers.

Problems from the start

When people first request JobSeeker payments, Centrelink bundles them into one of three streams of services: A (most “ready to work”), B or C (“hardest to help”). Stream C accounts for about 16% of the workload of employment services, and about 44% of this group have been clients of employment services for more than five years.

This categorization is important – it determines the level of support (such as funding for training) that the applicant is eligible for. Providers also earn more for helping customers get their jobs done if they are on Stream C.

People line up outside the Centrelink office.
Employment services can easily get bogged down in paperwork.
Stefan Postles / AAP

Our work has corroborated previous research, such as that of the Australian Refugee Council – the tool used to classify job seekers is not an accurate measure of the realities of these clients.

This is because job seekers are often reluctant to disclose deeply personal issues, such as domestic violence or criminal convictions, to strangers at Centrelink. As a result, employment services then invest heavily in reclassifying jobseekers, or “promotions,” from A to B or C.

This includes sending clients back to Centrelink for reassessment, which can take months or months. Thus, less time is spent on meeting the needs of people and more time on administration.

Staff with little special skills

We also came across a system that employs people with little specialized skills and guaranteed jobs.

When employment services were privatized 30 years ago, many employees were employed in professional or social work. Today it mostly employs people without higher education. Social Workers – Former hairdressers, bakers, flight attendants, hospitality workers and carpenters. Some were themselves unemployed for a long time.



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Some employees specifically told us that their job is not to help solve the personal problems and crises of job seekers (they are not “consultants”).

Wages are low, jobs can be stressful, demanding goals, and little time to interact with people, and turnover is high. This inevitably means that those who really need help do not necessarily receive specialist services.

Good news

We also saw repeated examples of employees doing their best to ensure that the system was not too violent or indifferent to vulnerable people.

While the computer system encourages employees to punish (which can lead to delayed payments) job seekers for minor misconduct such as being late for appointments, we have seen employees show compassion and find solutions to the problem.

We saw employees who knew all the agency’s clients by name and worked as a team. If the employer had several vacancies, the staff would appoint to this position all “ready-to-work” jobseekers without exception, regardless of who was their official supervisor.

The human heart is still beating in the system.

New changes are coming

From the middle of next year, as the labor market struggles to recover from COVID-19, radical changes are coming.

The Welfare-to-Work program will operate primarily online, with a business-to-business application. If this does not lead to a job search within 18 months, a job seeker classified as long-term unemployed is likely to be transferred to face-to-face communication.

Woman applying for a job online
Employment services will be digitized from mid-2022.
www.shutterstock.com

The government says more money will be invested in youth programs and skills training. But welfare advocates warn that old problems of “too little help and too much cop” will be replicated in the new system. Moreover, what this digitization will mean for vulnerable job seekers (especially those who do not have good computer skills or modern technology) remains to be seen.

The overall conclusion of our research is that the current system does not work for the most disadvantaged clients. The approach to helping people get the job done is transactional – even at the best agencies.

Regardless of whether work is indeed the best form of social security, some Australians find it difficult to achieve this even with the “help” of personal employment services.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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