It’s been a giddy week for a Government that loves punishing the most vulnerable for simply trying to exist.
In a one-two punch aimed down and nowhere else, the Morrison Government announced both a permanent “increase” to JobSeeker – effectively a drastic cut from the current Covid supplement levels – while also revealing a “dob in a dole bludger hotline” for bosses and scumbags, an innovative new way to shit on vulnerable people.
This is signature form for a Government with a deep philosophical commitment to poor-bashing. Robodebt, work for the dole, the cashless welfare card; all key pillars of a cruel legacy.
After drastically improving the quality of life for welfare recipients during the Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequently finding no evidence that doubling JobSeeker was a deterrent to finding work – while also proving we absolutely can choose to lift everyone out of poverty – something had to be done! If we take care of each other and see food and housing as a human right, what next!? Treating poor people as human beings!? It’s just not proper.
Doubling JobSeeker in 2020 was tacit acknowledgement the rate was nowhere near enough to live on, and certainly not with the bare minimum amount of dignity we’d all like to be afforded.
But the society-wide economic devastation of coronavirus meant many middle-class people were forced to deal with the welfare system for the first time; people who were not previously unemployed, disabled, or otherwise in need of help. Our Government viewed this cohort as more deserving, a temporarily embarrassed, temporary addition to the ranks of the poor. This stood in stark contrast to “normal” welfare recipients who only have themselves to blame, be it their innate character flaws, a lack of work ethic, or, most facially, an insidious desire to rort the taxpayer. Unlike the traditionally poor, this new variety of normally comfortable but temporarily disadvantaged deserved to afford three meals a day.
The proposed “raise” to Jobseeker will see recipients receiving an extra $25 a week on top of the pre-Covid rate. This effectively leaves them $80 a week below the poverty line instead of $105. “It is the single largest increase in the JobSeeker payment since the mid-1980s, year-on-year,” Prime Minister Morrison said at a press conference on Tuesday.
That this is factually true is a national tragedy, not something to boast about. Across four decades now, successive governments have swept the needs of our poorest under the rug. Even Labor Governments – yes, traditional champions of the working class – have treated welfare recipients with no less disdain during time in power. The Gillard Government even threw single parents onto the lower Newstart allowance when their children turned eight. And even now Labor is unwilling to commit to a specific figure greater than this piddly $3.57 per day raise before the election. The cruelty might be more covert under Labor – driven by political cowardice rather than callous ideology – but it certainly is bipartisan, and, most importantly, the end result for hungry people is the same no matter the intent.
The Morrison Government, trading on a brand of popular cruelty, couldn’t risk upsetting its base too much by bestowing 3/4s of a cup of coffee upon the poors a day without also rolling out the boot. Tiny carrot, massive stick. As a result, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, announced a “dob in a dole bludger” hotline like a dystopian sci-fi villain: a phone line for bosses to snitch on JobSeeker recipients who turn down offers of work.
No evidence has been cited for this apparently very real and common problem, one that flies in the face of the fact there are currently an estimated 15 job seekers per one job vacancy. I’m no brain genius, but it seems one of those numbers is larger than the other. It appears likely like your friend’s cousin’s uncle who knows a guy who can’t find an employee because they’d all rather be on the dole might be, as it turns out, a huge bullshit artist.
If you can’t find someone to fill a vacancy right now chances are you’re either a) paying less than poverty wages, b) demanding ridiculous levels of education and experience for an entry level position, c) struggling with the self-inflicted skills crisis because this nation hates investing in education, or d) looking to “employ” fruit pickers for borderline starvation wages because the pandemic means you can no longer take advantage of European backpackers looking to drink their way across the nation.
All this hotline does is reinforce the idea that welfare recipients are cheats, criminals, and somehow beneath the middle-class deserving poor, unfortunate rather than lecherous. And apparently it’s only progressives that wage “class war”?
All the MPs behind this “dob in a dole bludger” hotline receive $290 per day while in Canberra as an accommodation and meal allowance. They get this regardless of if they stay with friends or need a hotel. By my ex-JobSeeker recipient calculations, that’s quite a lot of soy lattes.
Yet someone like Michaelia Cash, with a salary of over $364,000 per year, sells the narrative that the real scourge on society is the mythical dole bludger constantly drowning in a sea of rejected job opportunities.
The rhetoric is endless and calculated. Countless anecdotes without evidence paint the scene: the spectre of dole bludgers haunting our economy, despoiling the streets of every “hard working” taxpayer, living in mansions filled with flat screen TVs and iPhones, sleeping on a glittering treasure pile of $300 a week spent exclusively on alcohol and drugs, all while laughing maniacally at the fleeced, hard working noble taxpayer (that’s you!).
It’s “The best form of welfare is a job.” It’s “Raising welfare above the poverty level is a deterrent to getting a job.” It’s “Have a go to get a go? Get a go to… give a go?”
Who needs a coherent slogan when every Murdoch rag will run with the message, punching down endlessly, tiressly, front pages of The Herald Sun and A Current Affair “investigations” fleshing out the tapestry.
The sheer audacity of trying to take credit for the biggest welfare increase since the 1980s (again, nothing for any Coalition or Labor government to be proud of) while at the same time feeding the dole bludger myth with a snitch hotline is truly staggering.
If nothing else, it’s clear that raising the rate was never something we couldn’t afford to do. It was something this nation chose not to do, repeatedly. For our neoliberal strain of modern Australian conservatism, the cruelty is, and will always be, the point.
The Chaser Quarterly
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