1 June 2017
Media Release: Welfare Rights Centre’s response to the 2017 Budget.
The Welfare Rights Centre (WRC) welcomes the Federal Government’s removal of the $13 billion in zombie cuts and the $263 million investment in the employment programs proposed in the 2017 Budget. However, the WRC opposes the Government’s implementation of harsher welfare crackdown measures which vilifies people on social security. The 2017 Budget unfairly targets the most vulnerable members of society who are in most need of assistance.
Making it more difficult to claim and remain on a social security payment is unfair and puts further pressure on those who are already financially stressed. The WRC expects an even larger number of people to contact the Centre for assistance at a time when it is already struggling to meet current demand.
Specifically, the WRC opposes the Government’s proposed drug testing of 5000 people who are unemployed. This proposal intrudes on people’s privacy and will penalise people who refuse to take the test. The Government should adequately fund drug and alcohol rehabilitation services rather than taking this punitive approach. Moreover, the government’s proposal to trial the program in areas that already have established rehabilitation services does not ensure the success of the initiative in communities without these services.
Coordinator/Principal Solicitor, Katherine Boyle, said “the 2017 Budget unfairly targets and penalises those who require assistance from the Government. The people who come to us need support not drug testing. Rather than making it harder for people to claim social security payments, the Government should focus on the primary issues of job shortages and address the inadequacy of income support payments.”
Download the the pdf version here: WRC’s stance on the Budget
Media contacts: Welfare Rights Centre – Amrita Saluja 9211 5300
New Coordinator/Principal Solicitor – Katherine Boyle
The Welfare Rights Centre is pleased to announce that Katherine Boyle will be the Centre’s new Coordinator/Principal Solicitor, starting on 11 July 2016.
Katherine has a 20-year career working to achieve social justice in the community legal sector, union movement, the public sector and private practice.
Following her undergraduate degree, she worked for a Labor Senator and volunteered at the Welfare Rights Centre. She then worked for a number of years in the NSW Department for Women, before she was seconded into the NSW Public Service Association, first as an Organiser and then as Acting Women’s Industrial Officer.
Her work at the union led to an interest in the law, and ultimately to a first class honour degree in Law from UNSW, which she worked towards while raising three children and continuing her volunteer work at Marrickville Legal Centre. She completed her practical legal training at the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service, where she also worked as a junior solicitor.
Following a period in private practice, she shifted to LawAccess NSW. The CLC sector beckoned, however, and she took a temporary position as law reform solicitor and clinical supervisor at Kingsford Legal Centre. She continued her work supervising law students in the provision of legal advice to socially and economically disadvantaged residents of Western Sydney at the Parramatta Community Justice Clinic, a joint project Macquarie Legal Centre and Western Sydney University.
Katherine says she is “thrilled and excited to be taking on this role”. The Centre’s Chair, Michael Raper, says that “Katherine is very well qualified and has the right attitude and experience to take on the challenges of the combined role of Coordinator/Principal Solicitor at WRC”.
17 March 2016
Media Release: Inequality report promises a new start for unemployed
The Welfare Rights Centre NSW welcomes the Labor Party’s new social policy framework, Growing Together. This report is a positive blueprint that could help to reduce inequality and poverty in Australia,” said Gerard Thomas, Policy and Media Officer at the Welfare Rights Centre NSW.
“A commitment to full employment and individualised, wraparound services to address the barriers to work experienced by disadvantaged people is an essential step in the journey into employment.
“Access to legal services, fair and efficient tax reform, housing affordability and ensuring access to high quality Centrelink services are additional ingredients to add to this comprehensive report.
Review adequacy of Newstart, improve employment services
“An independent, expert review into the adequacy of the Newstart Allowance is welcome. The single adult Newstart Allowance currently stands of 39.8 per cent of the national minimum wage. This leaves many people unable to afford soaring rents, and to meet food costs and utility bills. The poverty of Newstart is grinding and it robs people of their dignity.
“Lifting the Newstart Allowance will provide a new start while people are preparing for a looking for work.
“An increase in the Newstart Allowance will help to re-dress a serious policy mistake which is responsible for pushing thousands of single parent families deeper into poverty. Single parents on Newstart with no other income are currently $82 a week worse off than their peers on the Parenting Payment Single as a result of successive government cuts to social security payments for lone parents. These cuts have left single parents worse-off by about $1,480 a year. The 46 per cent of single working parents earning employment income are even worse off as a result of the harsher means testing arrangements that apply to the Newstart Allowance.
“In January 2016 there were 867,000 unemployed people receiving a Newstart or Youth Allowance payment. There are currently around 11 people who are either unemployed or under-employed for every job vacancy. Sixty-six per cent of all job seekers have been out of work for over 12 months. Indigenous job seekers on Newstart accounted for 9.2 per cent of all job seekers, numbering 66,549 at September 2015.
“The enforcement of ineffective policies like Work For The Dole (WFTD), which many view as demeaning and stigmatising, is counter-productive. The Centre’s 2016-17 Federal Budget submission called for the $300 million funding for WFTD to be reallocated to other more beneficial employment programs for young people and long term unemployed people.
Disability and employment support
“As a consequence of a decade of tightening the rules for the Disability Support Pension, one in four people on the Newstart Allowance has a significant disability, making it difficult for many to find secure and sustainable employment. Currently there are over 156,000 people on the Newstart Allowance with a disability who are assessed as having a ‘partial capacity to work.
“According to recent Senate Estimates, 26 per cent of the Jobactive caseload had a disability, as of February this year. Of the caseload of 790,000, there were 207,000 people who self-identified as having a disability. Despite their best efforts, people with disabilities are not given a fair go by most employers.
Services and funding cuts
“Cuts to programs and services that have a disproportionate impact on the most disadvantaged in our community have a major impact on inequality. Large reductions in welfare and community sector spending that we saw in the last two federal budgets are much more likely to widen income inequalities.
“Additional funding is needed to ensure access to affordable legal assistance. Providing additional support for people with social security problems should be a priority. The National Association of Community Legal Centres reports that 160,000 people are denied services each year. A looming 30 per cent funding cut next year under the National Partnership Agreement for Legal Assistance Services will decimate many services and leave people with no legal recourse when things go wrong.
Engagement and data
“The Welfare Rights Centre NSW, as a small “street level” organisation with over 33 years of experience, has a positive record of effective partnerships and collaboration with the Government and its key policy and service delivery agencies. But we recognise that there is room for systemic improvements and greater collaboration with the sector across the board. Our Centre also works closely with key community sector organisations such as the Australian Council of Social Service, St Vincent de Paul and the National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children.
“The de-funding of advocacy groups, such as the Australian Youth Advocacy Coalition, the national peak body for youth affairs in Australia, representing young people and the services that work with young people, is troubling. National peaks should be non-partisan, but must be able to undertake their role in defending and pursuing the interests of low income and disadvantaged Australians and the groups they represent.
“A greater focus on rigorous evaluation, public disclosure and improving the accessibility of data are also important initiatives.
“Inequality is bad for individuals, bad for the economy and bad for the nation. We must all work together to overcome its impacts.”
 The Welfare Rights Centre NSW is a member of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN).
 From 2011, known as the Department of Human Services (DHS).
 Department of Social Service Demographics, At: https://www.data.gov.au/dataset/dss-payment-demographic-data/resource/1cfde617-da6b-444a-9e97-584c596adb78, September 2015.
 Standing Committee on Education and Employment, Questions on Notice, Additional Estimates, 2015-16, Question No. EMSQ16-000182.
 Community Law Australia, Launch of new campaign – Fund Equal Justice, At: http://www.communitylawaustralia.org.au/launch-of-new-campaign-community-law-australia-fund-equal-justice/
5 August 2015
NATIONAL WELFARE RIGHTS NETWORK MEDIA RELEASE
Parliament urged to abandon harsh 4 week waiting periods for young people
The National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) will provide evidence today at 1.30 pm to a Parliamentary inquiry into the Government’s revised 4-week waiting period, telling the Senate Committee that 75,000 people under 25 will be hit by the four week waiting period, and 10,000 young people will have to serve two waiting periods over a 12-month period.
Kate Beaumont, President of the National Welfare Rights Network said: “While the new policy is not as punitive as last year’s offering which would have made job seekers under 30 wait six months without payment, it would still place 75,000 young people in severe financial hardship, leaving them without food and money to pay their rent. The Government claims that 83,000 young people will be exempted from the month long waiting period.
“The Bill will also tighten eligibility for the one week waiting period and increase the eligibility age for the Newstart Allowance to the age of 25. Many people will serve at least 5-weeks of waiting periods and young unemployed people aged 22 to 24, who will no longer be eligible for the higher Newstart Allowance or Sickness Allowance, will be left with up to $48 a week less.
“During the one month waiting period young people will still be required to attend activities, such as meeting with an employment service provider and undertaking job search, which for most means applying for 20 jobs a month. During this ‘pre-benefit’ stage a job seeker will also need to agree to a job plan, develop a resume and create a profile on the JobSearch website. If they fail to fulfil these requirements they will not be eligible for benefits and they will have to go back to Centrelink and start the process again, with another month before they get any payments.
“New Senate data from the Department of Social Services reveals that only 1.2 per cent of young people under 25 on Newstart had sufficient savings to be impacted by a Liquid Assets Waiting Period. only 3,650 job seekers under 25 had sufficient backup savings to cover essential living costs during the non-payment period.
“A person on the minimum wage would find it difficult to survive a few weeks without any regular income. So why are we cutting payments for young people who live on at most a Youth Allowance of just $213 a week, which is only 32 per cent of the minimum wage.
“The measures in this Bill have brought us to a tipping point with regards to inter-generational equity in this country. History will judge us poorly if we don’t give Generation Y the hand up that they need. Our youth should not have to carry the burden of the labour market’s structural failings.
“We need to avoid scarring tens of thousands of young people each and every year with a raft of harsh and punitive social security policies that basically blame them for the failures of the labour market to provide sufficient jobs for all those that want them.
“The Government talks about investing in people – NWRN agrees. This starts with an adequate investment in a decent social security system for young people starting off.
“With 60 per cent of young unemployed on Youth Allowance classified as long-term unemployed, addressing this problem should be prioritised ahead of other policies, including the poorly conceived and harmful suite of measures that are included in this Bill. We urge the Parliament to abandon the 4 week waiting period and to scrap the one week waiting period.
“Additionally, it is time to put a halt to plans to place young job seekers aged between 22 and 24 on the lower Youth Allowance, which will result in an annual loss of $2,500, and to push the pause button on freezing the indexation of the ‘income-free’ areas and other thresholds, which will result in an annual loss to young unemployed people and students of $138.4 million over 4 years.
“This plan isn’t a path to self-sufficiency, it’s a one-way street to poverty, with impacts on long term unemployment, poor health, depression and homelessness. This is borne out by Government allocating $8.1 million to help pay the bills of people made destitute by this very policy. That Centrelink will re-classify people and grant them exemptions if their situation deteriorates during the 4-week waiting period should be enough to convince the public that this is a bad idea, is poor social policy and should be rejected.”
Other key facts about the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment and Other Measures) Bill 2015:
- The 4-week waiting period comes at a substantial cost to job seekers, at $173.3 million over 4 years.
- The indexation pause to thresholds and income free areas means a cut in real terms, which means a $134.8 million cut in assistance for job seekers and students.
- The re-introduction of plans to extend Youth Allowance and Sickness Allowance (other) from age 22 to age 24, from 1 July 2016, is a $517 million cut in support for young people over 4 years.
- The one-week Ordinary Waiting Period to all payments, including Single Parents – excluding Widows Allowance, would take a further $274.8 million over 4 years from people receiving working age payments.
Department of Social Services data on Youth Allowance at March 2015:
- There were 105,692 people receiving Youth Allowance (job seeker).
- 17,300 young people, or 17.3% were from an Indigenous background,
- 56,360, or 53% were male, and
- 19,700 or 18.7% reported earnings from employment (for Newstart Allowance, 21.3%,
A copy of the NWRN’s submission on the Bill can be found here.
For comment: Kate Beaumont, President, National Welfare Rights Network, M: 0414 792 923 or
Gerard Thomas, Policy and Media Officer, National Welfare Rights Network: M: 0425 296 882.
13 May 2015
NATIONAL WELFARE RIGHTS NETWORK MEDIA RELEASE
Centrelink computer upgrade welcomed, but questions over fraud remain
The National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) today urged the Federal Government not to add to the confusion about Centrelink overpayments, very few of which are caused by deliberate or intentional fraud, and questioned whether the $1.7 billion in savings over the next five years would eventuate.
NWRN President Kate Beaumont said: “People should get their correct social security entitlements – no more or no less. We do not condone fraud in any form.
“One of the good news stories from this year’s Federal Budget is the plan to upgrade Centrelink’s antiquated, ageing computer system.
“However, inflammatory language such as ‘welfare cops on the beat’ is unnecessary and unhelpful, as it creates the false impression that social security fraud is rampant.
“Last year, just over one thousand people were referred by Centrelink to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for potential prosecution for fraud. This is small proportion of the 7.3 million people receiving Centrelink or family assistance payments. Unfortunately it is a common misconception that there are significant levels of fraud in the social security system. Many over-estimate the number prosecuted for social security fraud and recent research commissioned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions found that people think that 17 per cent of social security recipients are prosecuted for ‘welfare fraud’ whereas in fact, the real proportion is just 0.02 per cent.
“The social security system is so complex that many people find it difficult to understand the rules and make errors which can lead to significant levels of overpayment. This is not fraud.
“Too regularly we see instances where debts arise because of the outdated Centrelink computer system. The difficulty is that clients provide information relating to one payment with the expectation that it will be applied to all of their entitlements. Unfortunately down the track they find they have been overpaid because the different Centrelink IT platforms do not talk to each other.
“For the money invested, the Australian community should be confident that they are getting a replacement system that provides a tailored, individualised payment system that can meet the diverse demands of millions of families and individuals into the future.
“A modern, flexible Human Services computer system should remove or at least minimise the administrative burden on people and give them more time to look for work, study or care.
“The benefits of real time data sharing with agencies should include greater accuracy in payments and the capacity to identify overpayments and incorrect payments earlier. Over time, a more intelligent and sophisticated system computer system will also save money. This will result in less mistakes by people who use the system and those who administer it.
“One of the more significant improvements must be the administration of Centrelink debts and overpayments. In 2013-14, there were 2,230,894 debts raised, worth a staggering $2.2 billion.
“Action will be taken to recover outstanding overpayments from 2010-13 that are currently not under management. There is also a significant amount of debt held by people who are no longer receiving income support payments.
“The NWRN will seek to engage with the Department of Human Services to ensure that its activities around debt raising and recovery and the other ‘integrity’ measures announced in the budget are sensitive to the stress or hardship for those affected.
“We anticipate that the new computer system will result in less debt raising and reduced debt recovery action by both Centrelink and external debt recovery agencies.
“The Government has tasked an expert Advisory Group comprised of people from the public sector to steer the early stages of the new system, however, there does not appear to be a representative of users, or a voice to ensure that perspective of the consumers of the system is given priority.
“The Department of Human Services has long been committed to engagement around co-design. NWRN urges the Minister to consider the appointment of a qualified community sector representative to the Advisory Group.
“The other side of benefit fraud is tax fraud. Experts in the field have raised concerns with the unfairness of existing policies around prosecutions for social security fraud. The nation’s leading crime and research centre, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), has highlighted problems with the overrepresentation of women convicted for social security fraud offences. They call the value of fines and incarceration for certain offences “questionable”, and urge research on the use of criminal detention as a deterrent.
“The AIC also argues that there is a strong case for a comprehensive inquiry into the persistent wide gap between the numbers of people prosecuted for tax fraud as compared to social security fraud.
“The Budget included measures to increase data-matching. Our Network is generally supportive of data matching exercises, as they can result in early detection of incorrect payments.
“NWRN looks forward to working with Government on the delivery of a 21st social security system that provides adequate levels of assistance to those in need, and that treats those in the system with dignity and respect.”
Kate Beaumont, President, National Welfare Rights Network. M: 0414 792 923 or
Gerard Thomas, Policy and Media Officer, National Welfare Rights Network. M: 0425 296 882.
27 March 2015
NATIONAL WELFARE RIGHTS NETWORK MEDIA RELEASE
No jobs, no income: It’s time to revisit payment increase for jobless
“The Federal Government must deliver on its promise of an effective and sustainable jobs plan for all Australians,” said Maree O’Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) in a statement today. New payments data from the Department of Social Services reveals that in February 2015 there are over 870,037 people relying on unemployment payments, including 760,149 Newstart Allowance recipients and 109,888 Youth Allowance recipients. In the previous 12 months, the number of people out of work increase from 849,224.
“The number of long-term job seekers increased by 11.5%, from 251,800 to 280,864 in the previous 12 months.
“The Budget in May must deliver a new skills and training package for young people and Indigenous job seekers.
“We hope that more employers will open their doors for mature age job seekers, as there are almost 200,000 people aged over 50 on Newstart Allowance. Older workers, along with single parents and long term unemployed would benefit from a better-funded wage subsidy program, which has shown to be twice as effective in getting people into jobs that costly Work For The Dole programs.
“With unemployment at a 12-year high, it is young people who are bearing the brunt of the unemployment crisis. The national youth unemployment rate (for 15–24-year-olds) was at 14.2% in January. This is more than twice the overall national unemployment rate (6.3%).
“The reality is that there are simply not enough jobs to go around for every person who wants one.
“The existing labour market conditions show extreme competition for the available jobs. In December there were nearly 795,000 job seekers registered as seeking work in Job Service Australia providers and around 152,000 advertised vacancies per month. That is five registered job seekers competing for each advertised position. The average job seeker is aged 37 years, while the average length of time of registration with a job services member is more than two years (26 months). A single unemployed adult struggles to make ends meet on an impossibly low amount of just $260 a week.
“We can’t continue to let people continue to live on such low rates of payment any longer. The recent McClure Welfare Review failed to propose a solution the biggest problem with our social security system, which is the inadequate level of income available to people while they search, often fruitlessly, for a place in today’s tight labour market.
“It is positive that the Government may consider up-front investments to assist young people and others facing complex health and personal issues, but people also need an adequate income here and now,” concluded Maree O’Halloran.
For comment: Maree O’Halloran, President, National Welfare Rights Network: 0417 672 104 or Gerard Thomas, Policy and Media Officer, National Welfare Rights Network: 0425 296 882.
26 March 2015
NATIONAL WELFARE RIGHTS NETWORK MEDIA RELEASE
Vital services funding for Centrelink legal problems hits the mark
“People living needing legal help with problems at Centrelink can rest a little easier, after the Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis announced a reversal of funding cuts that would have meant reduced services at a number of our Centres,” said the Maree O’Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network today.
“It is a welcome relief that funding cuts will not proceed. These cuts would have reduced vital legal services to vulnerable people. “Welfare Rights Centres are community legal centres specialising in social security law and its administration by Centrelink. We advise people of their rights, entitlements and obligations and assist people through the social security review and appeals system.
“Each year, Welfare Rights caseworkers assist thousands of people with Centrelink problems. Welfare Rights services are cost-effective and efficient. NWRN member organisations provide casework assistance to their clients. They conduct training and education for community workers and produce high quality information and publications to help social security recipients and community organisations understand the system. “Centrelink staff generally do a good job under trying circumstances but mistakes do happen. Continued funding will enable Welfare Rights workers to assist people to get the right Centrelink payment, and to seek redress when things go wrong.
“Centrelink receives more complaints than any other Government agency, according to the Commonwealth Ombudsman. In 2013-14 Centrelink received a large number of complaints about its services and practices, with 52,763 complaints.
“There were 123,032 completed internal reviews in 2013-14. The decisions most commonly challenged were: rejection of a claim for payment, such as the Disability Support Pension; raising or recovery of debts; participation failure; start date of payment, and the rate of payment.
“It is essential that organisations independent of Centrelink are adequately funded to support, assist and represent people when things go wrong. “In 2014 NWRN commissioned independent qualitative and quantitative research into the services provided by our members. The quantitative research found that NWRN is meeting a gap that is not filled by other legal advice or complaints services.
“We welcome the Government’s support for our services. More funding is needed to address legal need the area of social security. The NWRN Federal Budget Submission makes a number of recommendations for how the Government could improve access to legal services.
“The restoration of funding for Legal Aid, Community Legal Centres and Indigenous legal service providers will help to ensure that some of the most vulnerable groups in the community can access the legal support and assistance to get their lives back on track.
“Restoring this funding will support people needing assistance in New South Wales, South Australia, Canberra Queensland and Western Australia ” concluded Ms O’Halloran.
Contact: Gerard Thomas: 02 9211 5389
26 February 2015
NATIONAL WELFARE RIGHTS NETWORK MEDIA RELEASE
A copy of the NWRN Submission to the Welfare Revew Taskforce can be found here.
Contact: Maree O’Halloran, 02 9211 5389
11 February 2015
JOINT MEDIA STATEMENT
This joint statement is delivered by the following organisations:
NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation
Save Medicare Sydney
Doctors Reform Society
Community & Public Sector Union
Australian Services Union
Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
Welfare Rights Centre (NSW)
Health Services Union
Australian Men’s Health Forum
Health Consumers NSW
Public Health Association of Australia