politics

Scott Morrison says Aussies are deliberately choosing to stay on JobSeeker. But that's not true.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is worried Australians are choosing not to work because their unemployment benefits are too generous.

"What we have to be worried about now is that we can't allow the Jobseeker payment to become an impediment to people going out and doing work, getting extra shifts," he told 2GB radio on Monday. 

He continued: "We are getting a lot of anecdotal feedback from small businesses, even large businesses. Some of them are finding it hard to get people to come and take the shifts because they're on these higher levels of payment."

In March, the federal government announced a Coronavirus Supplement of $550 a fortnight ($275 a week) for six months, ending in September, effectively doubling the JobSeeker Payment, previously known as Newstart.

There have increasingly been calls for JobSeeker to be permanently increased after the supplement ends. In 2019, with JobSeeker at its usual rate of $40 a day, Morrison refused to consider increasing the payment, even amid calls from within his own party.

At the time, the prime minister told parliament he wanted "to commend all those Australians who are on Newstart and looking for a job" and repeated a favourite line of his, that "the best form of welfare is a job".

The thing is, ScoMo, right now there are no jobs.

Image: ABS.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in May there were 129,100 job vacancies, a decrease of 43.2 per cent from February 2020. At that same point, there were 927,600 people unemployed.

On Wednesday, the Australian Unemployed Workers' Union (AUWU) shared stats that found for every 18 Australians currently unemployed, there is only one job available: There are more than 1.6 million people unemployed, and just under 92,000 jobs advertised on Seek.

ADVERTISEMENT

Following Morrison's comments about 'anecdotal evidence', the government released data from the National Skills Commission. The Guardian, which closely analysed the figures, found of the 2324 employers surveyed, only about 22 per cent (514) were currently recruiting.

Of those 514,139 reported they were having, or expected to have, difficulty recruiting. 72 out of those 139 cited lack of applicants as a reason.

The job market has collapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is through no fault of those who are now receiving government assistance. Their jobs were sacrificed as we made decisions to ensure the health of other Australians.

It is simply unfair to demonise them.

This 'dole bludger' rhetoric has been picked up by Australian media. The Australian's front page on Tuesday read "Jobless opt for dole over work".

Image: The Australian.

ADVERTISEMENT

Also on Tuesday, Channel Nine's Today show interviewed former Liberal MP and business owner Craig Laundy, who said those relying on government assistance should get off their "backsides". He later did an interview with News Corp, saying staff at his family's pubs had been "taking the Mickey" by refusing to turn up to shifts.

The 'dole bludger' rhetoric is damaging, and untrue. This was the case before the pandemic caused mass job losses, and it is the case now.

In a statement to Mamamia, the AUWU said it rejected the Prime Minister's statement, "because, as the Prime Minister should well know, Jobseeker recipients who turn down work are penalised for it under Mutual Obligations". 

"We also reject the claims made by spurned bosses who don't even understand the system well enough to lie about. It is a deliberate attack on jobseekers in an attempt to paint them in a negative light and further harmful myths about those on social security payments.

"Nobody chooses this - It’s obscene to say people are choosing to be unemployed right now. We are in the middle of the worst unemployment crisis in a lifetime."

What is true is Morrison's "how good is a job?" line. Having a job gives people purpose, and research shows it has a positive impact on mental health. 

Having a job is good, and those who can work overwhelmingly want to. But there needs to be jobs in order for them to do so (and this is not even taking into account specific skills and training required for many types of work. It is important to remember that not everyone can jump into any job. This drastically cuts the number of appropriate jobs someone can apply for).

Morrison's fears that JobSeeker is paying recipients too much is curious in its timing, too, considering upcoming decisions to be made by the government about the future of the payment after September.

As mentioned, he has long been against raising payments. Will it return to $40 a day, forcing those out of work to live below the poverty line? That provides another impediment to getting a job.

The future of the JobSeeker payment is unclear, but the future of those who are out of work, unable to find suitable employment in an empty job market should not be determined by 'anecdotal evidence'.

Feature image: Getty.

00:00 / ???