DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE CHANGES TO WELFARE?
Recently the Federal Government passed the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform and Reinstatement of Racial Discrimination Act) Bill 2010. This bill is a massive change to the provision of welfare in Australia and represents an attack on the conditions and dignity of all of us who are on benefits and the rest of us more broadly. Under the manufactured hysteria of the ‘Intervention’ in the Northern Territory the previous Federal Government introduced racist welfare income management: that is the restriction of where and on what people can spend their welfare payments. The current government has now passed legislation that has the potential to extend this to all of those on welfare in Australia. $500 million is being allocated over five years to fund these changes.
From the 1st of January 2011 income management will have the ability to roll out welfare quarantining across the country. It is not clear when or where these changes will be implemented – at this point the Queensland Council of Social Services points to the end of trials happening in the NT until at least 2014 . In these areas there will be four categories of people who will have their income managed by Centrelink.
Those of us aged 15 to 24 who have been in receipt of Youth Allowance, Newstart Allowance, special benefit or Parenting Payment for more than 13 weeks out of 26 weeks. Those of us in this category are designated ‘disengaged youth’
Those of us on Newstart, special benefit or the pension for 52 weeks out of 104 weeks. Those of us in this category are designated ‘long-term welfare payment recipients.
People in these two categories will have 50% of their welfare quarantined
CATEGORIES THREE & FOUR
Those of us referred for income management by child protection authorities and those of us assessed by Centrelink social workers as ‘vulnerable’ will have 70% of their payments quarantined.
How do I know if Centrelink thinks I am vulnerable?
It seems that this will be determined by a Centrelink social worker. The social worker will see if you are “experiencing an indicator of vulnerability”, whether you are failing to meet your “priority needs” or those of your partner or children and whether your “ total circumstances could be assisted by income management, having regard to other services and mechanisms available.” All this is very vague, what it means is that a social worker will have to power to determine, on the basis of your life style, how much you might spend on drinks or going out, what kind of child care your kids have and if you wash your hair or not, if you are ‘vulnerable’ and thus will have your income quarantined.
100 % of all one-off lump sum/one off payments will managed. These monies will only be able to be spent by using a ‘basics card’ (like an eftpos card) and you will only be able to spend the funds at certain stores and on certain products. You will only be able to spend this money on things the government deems as ‘necessities’. You will be prevented from spending any of this money on alcohol, gambling, pornography etc.
It is possible to be exempt from welfare management if you are in the first two categories and studying full time, are a new apprentice, if you have worked 15 hours per week for at least 26 weeks, if you are undertaking “an activity specified in an instrument made by the Minister” or if apply to be exempt. At the moment it is unclear on what grounds you can apply and who will make the decision. If you are in the last two categories you can’t apply for exemption.
If you have children dependent on you, you can only be exempt if your children have had no more than five unexplained days away from school in each of the two semesters, that they are in appropriate schooling and are progressing in their studies or your child is ‘participating in an activity specified by the Minister’.
Unemployment is a natural and desired part of Capitalism – its function is to enforce competition for work, keep people subordinate and drive down wages in order to keep the system going. When we struggle against unemployment we go to the heart of Capitalism – it exposes the fact that most of us only have our labour to sell.
This legislation shares the common, but deeply incorrect, idea that unemployment is somehow the fault of the unemployed. It is based on the idea that it is unemployed people’s attitudes or lack of skills that is the reason that there is unemployment. However as the recent global financial crisis has reminded us unemployment is caused by structural causes in Capitalism. There is always a certain level of unemployment (otherwise Capitalism could never grow) and the movements of investment and rates of
profitability means that sometimes businesses open and sometimes they close. While capitalists and bureaucrats have some level of choice and room to move under Capitalism, the majority of us have nothing to sell but ourselves – our time and our ability to work – and have no option but to rent ourselves out to survive. Those of us whose ability to work is the only source of profit find work when it is plentiful and struggle when it is not. The competition between us for jobs, whether there are plenty of jobs to had, or few and far between, works to push down wages by playing us off against each other.
Any attempt to make us compete for work allows bosses to attempt to offer the lowest possible wages. This is the motivation for this legislation: Australia faces a labour shortage which works to keep wages high. The government is hoping to make the lives of those on welfare more miserable in an attempt to tighten the competition for jobs in an effort to lower wages and increase profits.
Unemployment is not a major problem in this society; if anything the problem is overwork.
Capitalism’s response to current levels of unemployment has been an attack on conditions and work stability – many of us are now on contracts and work as casuals. The average full-time worker in Australia works 70 minutes of unpaid overtime a day— that is 33 full eight hour days a year. As society we give over 2.14 billion hours in unpaid overtime, worth $72 billion as a present to employers. Whilst some of us struggle to find work, others of us struggle to find time away from work. The majority of so many people’s lives are taken up with making a wage in work that is often dangerous, stressful, boring, exhausting, pointless and frustrating. Every society has to do a certain amount of work to maintain a decent standard of living, but the way we are organising work has very little to do with something worth being called living.
It is no surprise then that some people faced with the possibility of crap work for often crap pay may decide not to work. It’s actually pretty sensible. Life should be lived with dignity and dignity often has to do with the ability to work in a meaningful way – but maybe not flipping burgers or doing telemarketing.
Faced with the choice of working and barely above poverty wages, and having some time and poverty line welfare payments, are politicians surprised we sometimes choose the latter?
Capitalism hates when the unemployed refuse to act like the unemployed as it drives down its ability to exploit and reproduce itself.
Despite work for the dole and other attempts to control people, the underemployed and unemployed have always found alternative ways and loopholes to resist domination. When unemployment was high a certain section of the class – often young – used welfare payments as a way of refusing work and social restriction to spend time on more rewarding pursuits. (The entire Australian music scene has been subsidized by Centrelink). The ability to live a bearable and sometimes pleasurable life on welfare has provided a powerful reservoir of autonomy.
Those outside of wage-labour are still ‘productive’. Many of the jobs that are offered to us are stupid and many things that happen outside of wage-labour are actually very productive. The most obvious ( though often forgotten) example is house-work: the work that traditionally women have done, and have often received little or no credit for, the work of raising kids and caring for people is the very work that holds society together.
And this is why quarantining is being extended to those on Youth Allowance, New Start, Parenting Payments and Special Benefits. It is about extending discipline to all of us, those on the dole, those with jobs, those studying, those who do carework, those raising kids. All of us.
Beyond this, unemployed people are put to work and exploited by Capital all the time. Unemployed people are often those very people who are creating the types of creativity that companies use to directly sell their products. So many of us are being put to work all the time! Not to mention how those on benefits function as fodder being shuffled around by the Serena Russo’s of this world! No wonder in Europe there is a social struggle to demand a living wage for everyone, whether they have employment or not!
While the State media continues to construct the poor as ‘other’ to suit its particular goal – whether as ‘scandalous’, ‘immoral’, ‘lazy’ or ‘vulnerable’ – it also continues to invoke the mythical demons responsible for poverty – usually represented as single, unintelligent and promiscuous with children. Recipients of welfare are publically humiliated and degraded to such an extent that all of us become much more willing to submit, and are encouraged to fear benefits and accept crap, low waged conditions. Welfare quarantining thus represents a new technique for the State to engineer public consent, as well as track and render those receiving benefits into a transparent and policeable totality.
Centrelink has very little to do with our welfare; welfare assistance is not the product of kindness from our benevolent masters – it is first and foremost a product of class struggle and it must be maintained through struggle. This is important in that while it is possible to be exempt from these changes welfare quarantining is not a threat that can be avoided individually; We can’t ignore the governments push for us to accept more work and worse conditions. Our welfare and the meeting of human need – even of the non conformist – should not be an appendage to society. We have to shake off the identities that Capital has forged for us – as interchangeable tax payers, producers and consumers – and work together on ways to reclaim our positions as active, dignified human beings.
Stay tuned for more… assemblyfordignity.wordpress.com