Bendigo considers welfare dependency debate

ENSURING children have the best possible start to life is the most effective way to stop welfare dependency and inter-generational poverty later in life, Bendigo Community Health Services believes.

As the federal government sets its sights on welfare dependency with a $96 million package to come up with solutions, BCHS chief executive officer Kim Sykes said it was important not to place all welfare recipients in the same basket.

She said the Bendigo health services were already working to ensure the next generation did not grow up dependent on welfare.

“The reasons for needing to be on welfare - whether it is the disability support pension or Newstart - are very broad, and we shouldn’t be quick to judge people,” Ms Sykes said.

“There is strong evidence to suggest people who are born into disadvantage will have much poorer outcomes for their lives.

“If you can intervene very early in someone’s life, and support that child and their parents, you can reduce their risk of having poorer outcomes later on.”

A government-commissioned report identified parents under 18, young carers and certain students as most at-risk from becoming dependent on government payments.

The report found young carers could go on to receive more than $500,000 in welfare throughout their lives.

The federal government will attempt to introduce a four-week wait for dole payments for “job ready” jobseekers, but it remains blocked by the parliament.

Ms Sykes said forcing people to go without welfare payments could be counter-productive.

“It creates a pretty unacceptable risk,” she said.

“We know there are many families who struggle week-to-week already, so if a person lost their job, I doubt they would have the resources to pay for four weeks.

“It would really have an effect on their dependents too.”

Social services minister Christian Porter set the spotlight on welfare during a speech earlier this week, rejecting calls to increase the Newstart allowance.

The Australian Council of Social Services had recommended increasing Newstart by $53 per week. It is currently $264 per week for single people with no children, and $286 for single parents.

Mr Porter said most people on welfare receive more than one type of payment, and most moved away from Newstart within six months.

“I would actually put to you that the fact that people who find it challenging to subsist off Newstart, do so for short periods of time, might actually speak to the fact that that’s one of the design points of the system that’s working OK because the encouragement is there to move off those payments quickly,” he said.

Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said people caught in the inter-generational unemployment trap was only a “small proportion” of those in Bendigo receiving Newstart or other welfare payments.

She said there needed to be jobs available for unemployed people in Bendigo, and reducing or stopping welfare was not the answer.

“There’s no use throwing money at not-for-profit groups to come up with their own solutions if there aren’t jobs available for people who are on welfare,” she said.

“A high proportion of job seekers in Bendigo are over the age of 50. There’s just no focus from the government on how to generate jobs.”

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