COMMUNITY welfare organisations have decried some of the federal government’s changes to welfare, saying they will only foster more disadvantage and hardship.
The government will introduce a demerit system for job seekers who fail to meet obligations, such as showing for appointments and job interviews, in a bid to stop people gaming the system.
Those who acquire too many points could face escalating penalties that culminate in the cancellation of payments for at least four weeks.
The government will also trial randomly drug-testing new welfare recipients and those who test positive will be issued their payment in the form of a cashless debit card.
Anglicare Victoria’s Loddon Mallee regional director Francis Lynch said the measures were “mean-spirited and punitive”.
He said they would have an even harsher impact on people living in regional areas because of higher unemployment and fewer employment and housing services.
“People in regional cities like Bendigo don’t have the same access to public transport as people in capital cities which can make it difficult for them to attend appointments – and that situation is even worse in outlying areas such as Echuca and Swan Hill,” Mr Lynch said.
“Significant mobile phone black spots and poor online infrastructure in many parts of the Loddon Mallee region will make it extremely difficult for isolated people to meet welfare compliance requirements.
“Those who run out of credit on pre-paid plans are also at risk of falling foul of the proposed system.”
The Salvation Army has also described the changes, particularly the demerit system, as “alarming”.
Public relations secretary Craig Wood said that change was likely to exacerbate pressure on the charity, which was already struggling to meet demand.
Mr Wood said rental affordability and low housing stock were issues across the state, particularly in the Bendigo area.
He said the reforms around the Newstart job seeker payment and sickness benefit would have an impact on people already on the fringes of homelessness.
But it seems a significant proportion of the community agrees with at least some of the reforms: an online poll conducted by the Bendigo Advertiser found nearly 81 per cent of 1461 respondents were in favour of conducting drug tests on recipients of job seeker payments.