A new report from ACOSS, describing the experiences of people who used the jobactive employment service, provides a clear roadmap for how the new employment services system ‘Workforce Australia’ – which commences on 1 July – can and must do much better.
Based on a survey of 299 people, this second edition of our series “Voices 2” highlights the distress people experience when trying to survive on low incomes, while simultaneously responding to onerous mutual obligation requirements and payment suspensions.
The results show that people who have been out of paid work for a long time need a more personalized service where they can take the initiative and have more control over their job search.
Conversely, the survey reported positive experiences when practical support was provided flexibly and quickly, such as when people were directly provided with equipment or licenses that enabled them to obtain employment.
Ahead of the commencement of Workforce Australia, ACOSS is concerned that, while the new system was intended to offer more choice and agency for people as they search for employment, it retains many problematic features from the old employment services system (jobactive) that must be changed.
Acting ACOSS CEO Edwina MacDonald said
“ACOSS welcomes indications from the new Minister, Tony Burke, that the government will quickly review some of the worst features of the employment services system including automatic payment suspensions and unrealistic and inflexible activity requirements.
”For too long now employment services have been dominated by endless rounds of inflexible ‘tick a box’ activities, such as having to apply for 20 jobs a month and participating in unpaid ‘make work’ schemes like Work for the Dole that don’t help people find regular employment.
“The pressures imposed on people to meet strict mutual obligation rules or risk losing income support are not helping them secure employment. In fact, by undermining people’s agency, confidence, and mental health, they have the opposite effect.
“As the Voices report shows, people receiving unemployment payments live in fear of having their payments suspended for minor infringements such as not attending a meeting with their employment service. In many cases they weren’t aware of the meeting. In the first three months of this year, an average of 200,000 payment suspensions a month were imposed – in many cases for failing to meet some sort of rigid requirement.
“While the new system is an improvement on jobactive, it retains many deeply problematic aspects of the old employment services system that need to go, such as computer-generated payment suspensions and inflexible regimes of compulsory activities like Work for the Dole. The one-month suspension of activity requirements and penalties should also be extended to something more reasonable, like three months, and this should also apply to non-attendance at provider appointments.
“It is important that we get this right because since the pandemic, long term unemployment has increased to its highest rate ever with over 760,000 people on Jobseeker or Youth Allowance payments for over a year.
“It is worth highlighting that people have told us they want services that are helpful, compassionate, professional, and understanding; to be treated decently and with dignity.
“Without changing the services so that they are more flexible, personalised and fair we are in danger of continuing to punish people who are struggling to find paid work that is suitable for them.
“These survey results make it very clear that the new employment services must be user-centered, flexible and provide sufficient choice. The report provides a useful, point-in-time benchmark against which we can assess the impact of changes to the model. We must truly leave the past punitive and unhelpful models behind.”
The survey results from 299 respondents highlighted several chronic issues with jobactive employment services relating to quality, usefulness, and fairness.
“In the area I live, there is approx. 1 job for every 7 people. I can’t afford to move closer to the city where more work exists because rents are outside my means (and I do have a casual position when not in lockdown). Every time I’ve asked for help, I get told its unrealistic.’
- People were overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the services provided: 75% of respondents reported they were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their jobactive service, while just 10% reported they were satisfied. 46% of respondents indicated that appointments were for less than 10 minute and were a tick-a-box exercise.
- Consultants and providers were not helpful: 59% of respondents reported that they did not see the same consultants regularly; 61% did not agree that consultants are well-trained; 62% said consultants were not sympathetic and 65% said they did not provide appropriate support.
- There was a lack of personalisation, choice, and control: although 89% of the respondents agreed it was important to have choice about the requirements in their job plan, 65% of respondents did not choose the activities in their plans, 75% believed the number of hours of activity were not right for them, and 52% said the job plan did not accommodate their caring responsibilities or disability.
- Payment suspensions are unfair: 61% thought unemployment payment suspensions they had received were unfair, 58% indicated they had received ‘demerit points’ (which may lead to a loss of future payments) because of provider errors, and 66% said they had payment suspensions because of provider errors.
- Payment suspensions cause harm: 33% of people who had received payment suspensions indicated that they had caused high levels of stress and anxiety, while 11% indicated they were unable to pay rent on time due to payment suspensions.
- Complaints processes are not accessible or helpful: 70% disagreed that it was easy to make a complaint, 72% did not think their complaint would result in changes to the service and 59% did not find the Department of Education Skills and Employment’s National Customer Service Line easy to get through to.
- Positive experiences were reported when support was provided flexibly and quickly, such as when people were directly provided with equipment or licenses that enabled them to get jobs. Examples of this included being supported to obtain white cards (for construction work), licenses, or work clothing.
Read the ‘Voices 2’ report here