Changes to the dole for over 50s

The Federal Government has released its list of proposed changes to the Human Services (previously Centrelink) employment services system. Those aged over 50 will be required to undertake 15 hours per week of approved activities to receive Newstart Allowance. Those under 50 will be required to look for 40 jobs per month, as well as undertaking up to 25 hours per week of community service work.

In addition to these changes, new wage subsidies will be provided to encourage employers to hire mature age workers and the long-term unemployed.

There is concern these changes will create a system full of ‘box-ticking’ jobseekers – those who put in fake applications, or apply for jobs for which they are unqualified, just to meet the application quota. Employment Minister Eric Abetz has conceded that there is a real risk that ‘box-ticking’ could become a problem.

“What we’re asking most of the job seekers to do is to seek a job of a morning and of an afternoon, and I think that is a reasonable request to make of our fellow Australians,” Mr Abetz explained. He did, however, admit that there could be flaws to the new system. “We don’t want red tape and inconvenience to employers but what we do want is a genuine attempt by the job seeker to obtain employment and with the help of a job service provider, we trust that that will assist them in redoubling their efforts to obtain employment.”

More than 200,000 over 50s are currently receiving Newstart Allowance in Australia. The number of older Australians on unemployment payments has dramatically increased in the last four years. Greens Senator Rachel Siewart told theABC’s AM program, “We have had an increase since last year of 24,000, which is an increase since 2010 of 45 per cent … I would suggest that that’s not just population increasing as our population ages – that there are some employment barriers there that older workers are facing and that they are not being able to re-engage with employment.”

She also suggested that forcing over 50s to undertake 15 hours of approved activity each week would not help the job prospect of Australia’s older workers, unless the emphasis was put on accredited training. “A keep-busy program I don’t think is what they need. I couldn’t tell you how many reports I’ve had from older workers, who, when they go to their job service provider, are told ‘no’, then are refused access to training money and the programs,” she said. “They want to retrain because service providers have been more focused on their young people they think they can get into the workforce more easily.”

Read more on over 50s on the dole from the ABC News website

Read the current activity test requirements from Centrelink 

Opinion: Have they given up?

In some ways these proposed changes are an improvement for older Australians, as previously only those aged 55 and over were exempt from the more rigorous job application requirements. Now those as young as 50 need only undertake 15 hours of approved activity per week, which is what those aged over 55 were required to do all along under the current system. Does this, however, suggest that the Government doesn’t really expect over 50s to ever re-enter the workforce? The Government is increasing the Age Pension eligibility age with the message that older Australians need to work for longer. But for those receiving the dole, the message is that when you turn 50, you can slow down and stop looking for work to receive your payment. Under the old system this didn’t happen until you turned 55.

Is this because, in reality, the Government knows how much harder it is for older Australians to find work? That many employers are prejudiced against older workers, and that all the financial incentive in the world won’t change the fact that experience is so often passed over for youth?

In a recent interview, Michelle Obama spoke on the difficulties she faced in returning to work (before her husband was president of the USA), “If you want me to do the job, you’ve got to pay me, and you’ve got to give me flexibility. And giving me flexibility means I will work my tail off for you.” What she was talking about was the loyalty an older worker will offer an employer who treats them well. Older Australians understand the value of a good employer, one who understands that family commitments happen, who offers training and who treats you like a valued employee.

And to those employers who are afraid to hire older workers because of their age, I ask you to think about this; if you hire a 55-year-old, someone who has grown up with the concept of company loyalty, and you treat that person like a valued employee, you’ve got a worker who is likely to stay with you for the next 10 years until they retire. How many 25-year-olds do you know who will stay with the same company for even half that time?

What do you think? Are these changes to the dole a positive for older Australians? Or do you think it shows that the government has given up on older workers returning to the workforce?