Anyone who didn’t notice my abject frustration and disappointment at the 2014 Federal Budget wasn’t paying much attention to my Twitter and Facebook feeds on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I don’t honestly know what I expected from the Abbott Government. I must have been somewhat taken in by their clear cut promises and no-nonsense manner. Even as a progressive, I must have trusted some of what they said prior to the 2013 election.
It seems I was not alone.
In truth, when a government approaches it’s first budget back in power, it is expected to make changes and readjust. It is expected that some services commonly understood as welfare or handouts will be cut by a conservative party, just as a progressive or green party would cut the other way. I also understood, as an accountant’s daughter, that the government cannot run with a massive debt, and at some point the borrowing has to decrease and the spending with it. I knew this was the reality of the coming budget. I’m a progressive, not an idiot.
What i suppose was altogether unexpected, was the underpinning fabric of our social welfare system, for young and old, to be shoved into a capitalist mincer. I didn’t expect to be explaining to friends and family how the changes to Medicare, a system envied the world over, would or could affect them. I didn’t expect to feel a cold chill at the changes to the pension or to be thankful for the first time in my life that my grandparents are over 70. I certainly didn’t expect to feel a stab of sadness for those families, unlike my own, who rely on the Family Tax Benefits and various other government payments to subsidise the whopping and increasing cost of raising a family.
In my house, we have to pay for private health care, but by the blood in my needle-phobic veins, we’ve had the cause to call on the public health system more than once. We’re not eligible of Family Tax benefits or child care rebates, but we understand that there are people in the community who, by a variety of circumstances, find they are in need of some assistance from the government to get by. We understand that to build a better community, we all need to do what we can to provide facilities and services for those who can’t afford to pay.
I suppose this is why the biggest gut-punch in the entire budget came from the changes to unemployment benefits for those under 30 years old. I’m not thirty yet. A lot of my friends aren’t. A lot of us have kids now, jobs, cars, loans – lives! But some of us, the younger of us I imagine, haven’t been out of the nest quite so long. Or working at a well paying job with a wise savings plan for time enough to survive more than a month without a pay cheque.
This got me thinking and worrying deeply about apprentices, trainees and university students, both school leavers and ‘mature age’. Let me take the example of apprentices in my local area.
Generally these are school leavers who apply for apprenticeships at the end of year 12. This gives them an approximate age of 17 the year they start their training. In my area, apprentices are paid quite well, but not nearly as well as one needs to be remunerated to afford the rents. I can tell you on good authority, rent can vary anywhere between $800 to $2000 a week. Most apprentices will share housing or remain living with their parents to manage the cost.
At the end of their four years, they will have a trade. Hooray! They will also, 90% of the time, be unemployed. A majority of the companies in this area don’t make a habit of permanently employing their apprentices after their training ends. Is this cost related? I don’t know, but there is something to be said for getting out and seeing the world, not working for one company all your life.
Now, imagine you are that new tradie, approximately 21 years old, perhaps with some modest savings in the bank. You now have no job. You live in a small town where a whole group of apprentices have all graduated at the same time, often with the same trade and experience and the jobs have in recent years become scarce. To top it off, there are much better skilled, more experienced trades people going for every job you apply for. You start getting letters, emails and phone calls including the word ‘unsuccessful’.
Your savings are swiftly dwindling. You have to pay for rent, electricity, phone, internet, fuel, food, clothes (often work related), car registration and insurance, travel to interviews, goodness forbid if you have someone dependent on you, like a partner or child!
Where does this new 2014 budget leave this newly trained, fresh faced tradesperson? Broke. And quickly skidding towards the bones of their arse.
Moving to find work costs money, but it’s well worth the risk. Staying put in the hope of finding work costs money too, and in some ways can be a riskier prospect. What help could a government so keen on job creation be to a young person in this situation?
A) Provide young people who have recently finished a training or study period or found themselves unemployed with 6 months of financial assistance
B) Actively assist employers and un-employed people to connect and find suitable candidates for work they are trained and skilled for.
What does the 2014 budget offer? 6 months of fear and uncertainty, scrambling to make ends meet. Would it not be wiser to catch the unemployed as soon as they hit the pavement and boost them into a new job? Would it not be wiser to cap unemployment payments for those under 30 to 6 months worth, or perhaps 12 months in extreme circumstances? Perhaps incentives could be offered to help people relocate to take up a position they have successfully gained. Certainly a program where employers are able to access a pool of people who are unemployed, eager and keen to work and nearing the end of their payment period could be of some help.
Some of these programs and approaches have been tried before and with varying levels of success but I don’t for one minute feel this is a reason to abandon them or their ideals and premise altogether. We have all faced, at some time in our lives, the terror of bills that cannot be paid, overdue rent or the prospect of no pay cheque on the horizon. The solution to solving unemployment and welfare reliance in this country is not to instil fear in the population. The solution lies in a healthy combination of the two.
Empowerment is a beautiful thing when it sparks in the eyes of those who until now have thought themselves lesser or useless. Empowerment is the fuel by which we bring people from poverty and helplessness into a life where they can feel assured and confident in their ability to provide for themselves.