This has been a trying month for a pair of big city empty-nesters and their luckless 20-year-old son. We should call this fellow Goose.
After several years of stop-start employment and periods of being subsidised by Centrelink, Goose scored a night job as a car park attendant in the city. Alas, he fell asleep on the job. Hundreds of motorists retrieving their cars after the ballet, the big hit musical, the opera and that tedious Chekov play drove out without paying. They have CCTV footage of the driver of the first car getting out, reaching inside the booth and opening the boom gate. The management board had a meeting about what to do about the other vehicles that drove out without paying. If this was a true story, and you had any interest in the subject at all, you’d find the total sum written off in their annual accounts.
Goose’s parents, meanwhile, have been relishing life in the big rambling McMansion now that their daughter has married and moved to Saudi Arabia with her oil executive husband, their elder son has moved to Western Australia to work in the mines and the dear old Labrador, Doris, has gone to doggie heaven. Life has been sweet, especially since the youngest lad moved out to live with his mates because, as Goose found on many occasions, you can’t exactly play the music you like as loud as you like it and have a bong sitting on the coffee table when you live at home with the folks.
But uh-oh, Goose has turned up at the front door, letting himself in with the key he still has (mistake), interrupting Foyle’s War to announce that he is moving back in. Dad puts the recorded show on pause, Mum puts the kettle on and an uncomfortable atmosphere ensues, much like pressing ‘start’ on a flea bomb and then not leaving the house.
Goose and his folks are among the victims of the 2014 Federal Budget and a policy decision to shift unemployed youngsters off Newstart and on to the Youth Allowance until they turn 25. Unemployed people under 25 will get Youth Allowance instead of Newstart, while recipients of either will have to wait six months before receiving payments. And they will have to prove they were looking for work. From January 1, young people approved for this new scheme will have to log a minimum 25 hours on the Work for the Dole scheme.
The Budget measures follow the heartless Commission of Audit report, which among other things recommended forcing young job-seekers to re-locate or lose welfare benefits. While both allowances are income and asset tested, the bare bones of this decision means someone under 25 living at home will receive $272.80 per fortnight (as opposed to $510.51 under Newstart). That is just under $20 per day.
Fair to say that anyone seriously engaged in looking for work would spend a lot of this money on public transport and keeping their pre-paid mobile phones topped up lest they miss that elusive second-interview call. Organisations like The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) have been grumbling about the unsustainable nature of Newstart, asking the obvious question: who can live on $35 a day in any of Australia’s capital cities or large regional towns? Now they have an even more urgent issue to review.
Certainly there will be many who agree with Treasurer Joe Hockey’s position – Australians under 30 should be “earning or learning”. But surely his tough stance on youth unemployment need not have been so harsh? Why not give a Job Seeker Package to everyone in that age group who has been unemployed for more than six months? This would include a one-off payment to allow recipients to buy interview clothes, get a haircut and budget for mobile phones and public transport smart cards. Oh, and have a decent breakfast. The JSP would also offer free out-placement services similar to those offered to newly redundant executives. Why should they have all the fun?
Our fictional empty-nesters, meanwhile, thinking about noise-baffling insulation downstairs, where Goose has reclaimed his old room, have been reading the fine-print on Centrelink’s website, which, as you might surmise, may need to be updated to accommodate this particular change, which comes into effect on January 1. Those who know little or nothing about Youth Allowance and New Start may be surprised to know that this new legislation merely increases the age range of those required to apply for the Youth Allowance (it is currently 16-20).
Statistics on youth unemployment gleaned by the Brotherhood of St Lawrence put it at 12.4%, compared with 6% for the working population overall. Those January 2014 stats are alarming enough, but downright awful when you look at youth unemployment “hot spots” – West and North-West Tasmania (21%), Cairns (20.5%), Northern Adelaide (19.7%), South East Tasmania (19.6%), Outback Northern Territory (18.5%), Moreton Bay North – including Caboolture and Redcliffe – (18.1%) and Mandurah in WA (17.3%) head the list. Blacktown Mayor Len Robinson says youth unemployment in Mount Druitt is about 25%, and he should know.
They say that in Mount Druitt, if you look skywards at dusk, you can sometimes see flocks of geese, braying loudly as they head inland.