Unemployment the next big business thing

‘A danger is we stay stuck in a new normal where unemployment rates stay high, people who have jobs see their incomes go up, businesses make big profits. But they’re learned to do more with less, and so they don’t hire.’
Barack Obama

Jobs in America have been a constant talking point since unemployment reached a 25-year high of 8.1 per cent during the height of the global financial crisis. Fast forward eight years and that figure has dropped to 5.7 per cent, with a minimum wage at $7.25 per hour. Compare that to Australia, which has one of the highest minimum wages [$16.87 an hour] in the Western world and enjoys a high income threshold of $133,000 annually.


Land of missed opportunity: wages in Australia are falling, jobs are hard to find and living expenses are on the rise.

Sounds like a great place to live and work, until you read ABS stats showing Australia’s jobless rate in 2015 is now at a 12-year high, peaking at 6.4 per cent in January. Once envied as the land of tomorrow [circa 1948], milk and honey [1951] turned land of opportunity [2005-12], we began falling from grace circa 2013-15 to rank along with the US as the land of missed opportunity!

Is there any relief in sight? Maybe, if former head of Mission Australia Patrick McClure’s “wide-ranging” Coalition-commissioned review into the nation’s $150 billion welfare system” gets the green light. His plan to swap the current 20 income support payments and 55 supplementary payments with just five basic payments [as well as recommendations to tighten the eligibility for disability support] is aimed at finding ways for the government to save money and encourage more people to return to work.

Great idea in theory given there are no jobs for people to return to. Monday night’s Four Corner’s program highlighted major flaws in how Australians can get back into the jobs’ game. It revealed “a system open to abuse where the unemployed have become a commodity; where some agencies bend the rules and others break them”.

Unemployment is now big business, suggests Four Corners in response to the government’s annual spend of $1.3 billion on welfare-to-work scheme, Jobs Services Australia, which is failing due to “80 per cent of claims having some sort of manipulation on them”.

How can this happen amid regular government audits? Information provided by an agency whistleblower exposes “shocking evidence of fraud, manipulation, falsified paperwork, and the recycling of the unemployed through temporary jobs”. Even former job agency employees have admitted to “crucial internal records [being] adjusted before government checks take place”. Apparently hours are bumped up, wages inflated, and in many cases, vital evidence to support claims from the taxpayer have been falsified.

It’s compelling television to watch but its content could be just the tip of the ice-berg. It seems job agencies are not the only groups getting in on the government-funding subsidy act, so are adult education centres.

One student RoamingRAVE spoke to revealed they’d been pushed into a course they weren’t eligible for. They were allegedly told if they lied about their situation they could do the course free thanks to a government-funded “career jump start program”.

Expressing they didn’t want to do anything illegal, the student was admonished by the course co-ordinator who replied “you’ll never get a job with that attitude”! Trouble is, even if they were prepared to lie, the training institution needed eight students to fill the bill to secure subsidised funding to run the program aimed at showing job seekers how to “overcome barriers to getting work”. It currently had two students but interviews were still taking place.

This was one of five government-backed programs that particular institution could vie for funds if it could find enough eligible job seekers to attend. And of course, that was the name of the game. No matter that a particular course didn’t suit a student, they were being “persuaded” it was the only option to help them find job opportunities.

So if there is so many people unemployed, why aren’t they lining up for free study pathways that could help them get back into the workforce? Our student suggests it’s the course content that isn’t relevant to the skills needed to seek work. Further, it would take the job seeker out of the job-seeking game three days a week for six months. What potential employer would be interested in hiring someone based on that restriction?

It presents a catch-22, and it would seem just like job agencies and charities depicted in the Four Corners program, education institutions in Australia have opted to join “profit-takers making a buck from Australia’s jobless”.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance writer and blogger for hire. Fill out the form to send any tip-offs for articles. All names are withheld.

For fund’s sake, help the mentally ill

Mental health needs a great deal of attention. It’s the final taboo and it needs to be faced and dealt with. Adam Ant

StigmaFreeZONE_web-buttonBack in 2010, mental health expert and then Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry lobbied the Federal Government to commit more money to the country’s mental health system. He was reported as saying Labor’s $277 million plan was “simply not enough” and the Coalition’s $1.5 billion proposal “may have a better price tag”, but it excluded children and older people.

In 2015 a lot has changed for older people suffering chronic mental illness, thanks to Disability Services Australia initiatives, but as the peak national non-government organisation representing and promoting the interests of the Australian mental health sector, Mental Health Australia, suggests, “still more is needed to improve services to meet increasing demands and to ensure that those with a mental illness receive high quality and targeted services. Small investments in existing systems and services will not end the crisis in mental health and will continue to offer poorly integrated services that fail to deliver quality care.”

Case in point, a recent article by the executive director of Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia, David Meldrum, questions whether the right people are getting access to Tier 3 National Disability Insurance Scheme funding currently being trialled at different sites.

Mental-Health-Puzzle-1653773As a family with a mentally ill sibling who has suffered the illness for now on 30 years, we are one of the lucky few grateful for NDIS funding that has found its way to a sister and daughter who has been crying out for “quality care” for way too long. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. At age 53, she’s been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The prognosis isn’t good and the specialist help she requires is protracted and expensive.

The journey to this outcome has been long and stressful on all sides. Thirty years ago psych patients were given treatment and then thrown out to the elements. If they were lucky, they had family or charities who could pick up the pieces; if they weren’t, they roamed the streets aimlessly or jumped from boarding house to public housing depending on how quickly they were evicted due to the way they lived. To get a case worker meant the patient had to agree to it, or families had to take out court orders.

To understand the difficulty of securing help, it takes a team of health-care professionals [see list below], including a wide range of dedicated professionals, in getting treatment to someone such as our sibling, who suffered paranoid schizophrenia.

  • Case worker
  • GP (general practitioner/family doctor)
  • Pharmacist
  • Psychiatrist, psychotherapist and psychiatric nurse
  • Social worker
  • Members of the patient’s family

Getting long-term help is hit or miss due to the very nature of the disease. Psych patients distrust the system and reject suggestions that ongoing psych medication can assist them to lead “normal” lives. A revolving door of hospitalisation therefore ensues.

For 20 years our sibling spent more time trying to buck the system than work with it. When in her words she was “finally cornered and institutionalised”, the outcome still proved poor. After five years of “help” under Mental Health she was described as being “treatment resistant” and discharged on that basis.

Free-Psychology-Cartoons-by-Mental-Health-Humor-my-story-clip-artDuring her internment she repeatedly failed the mental institution’s staged system of learning how to live independently yet was still discharged and placed in an apartment with no outlook where she proceeded to trash it as her mental health deteriorated rapidly. It was decided a different style of community accommodation was required, but again she was able to refuse medication, or help being offered to a psych patient “living in the community”.  That deterioration was so sever that within six months she had to be hospitalised and could not return to her flat due to its state. It required a “forensic clean” because it was that filthy and festered.

Not having the funds to pay for the $2000 clean-up, she was ushered in to a short-stay mental health facility that ended up nursing her back to mental health for a period of 12 months. But even so, as in the previous institution, there were few health checks as psych patients can refuse it. After 30 years it seems there is still no such thing as a holistic approach to mental health.

A year on from that situation, under a brave new mental health regime in Australia, our sibling finally has “quality” assisted help, but it’s come too late for her physical health. She’s had cancer for “a very long time”, according to the oncologist. The primary cancer in her bowel has metastasised into the liver where two large tumours have developed.

She undergoes chemo this week. She’s scared but on good days surprisingly able to take the situation in her stride. On bad days, it is heart-wrenching to watch someone who has suffered so much forced to suffer even more. And there’s only more suffering to come.

toon369If there is one change families of the mentally ill would like to see, it is the approach to care that is currently being administered. It is no longer acceptable for doctors to attempt only to improve a patient’s mental well-being. Their physical health must come into play. Psych patients are known for their poor hygiene, lack of nutritional care to themselves, their obsessive nature to self-medicate through drugs and alcohol, through binge eating and smoking, all of which takes its toll physically. If the psych drugs don’t take them out early, conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer will. As ’80s English musician Adam Ant suggests, it’s time to face up to and deal with the mental health facts.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance writer and blogger whose family has spent in gaol-terms, a lifetime navigating and dealing with an often hostile and inadequate mental health system.