Thursday, 22 September 2016

Carers and Australia's Financial Dependence on their Unpaid Labour.

Australia's entrenched culture of dependence on carers comes with an almost incalculable saving to the national coffers. Before beginning to crunch numbers, I'd like to honour and validate the recipients of unpaid care in Australia, those who suffer illness or have a disability and apologise for the complete erasure of those very people when we talk of carer contribution and carer cost and dependence. It would be remiss and reprehensible to detail how expensive it is to provide unpaid care for you and never once affirm that you are the equal of anyone in Australia, no matter your care requirements.

Here is an oversimplified report on the financial savings represented by carers. Carers cost $6 billion in payments. Their replacement value is $60.8 billion, thus making replacing them more than nine times more expensive than paying them. Our  focus group consists of 11,000 young carers identified by actuarial evidence of being at risk of having the nation benefit from their unpaid and unrecognised labour. Those 11,000 young carers,  estimated to receive $500,000 each in payments therefore represent  $4.5 million dollars in saving each. As a group those 11,000 young carers will save taxpayers $49.5 billion dollars over their lifetimes. 

Let's look at Lisa, as seen in the oversimplified cartoon on this website 

Lisa enters the welfare system at 16, on student payments, while she finishes her education. Her education finishes and she is eligible for Youth Allowance  while looking for a job. At 20, she becomes carer to her younger brother and cares for him for twelve years, when he goes into formal support services. Wow, Lisa is now 32 and was replaced  by formal support services. Let's be clear about this. Lisa has been providing care that can only be replaced by formal support services, she's been doing a job single handled that requires formal support services without her. How good is she?

 She gets a part time job and still receives some carer allowances. That means she's still participating in his care, even with all the formal support services. Lisa seems to be a pretty excellent Australian, and she works until she's 65, which is 33 years, when she becomes carer for another family member until retirement age of 67, when she gets the aged pension until she dies. Lisa, that most excellent of Australians, spent 14 years of her life, providing full time care for a person who needed her. She was paid approximately $322,000 in benefits during that period for a saving to the taxpayer of $2.898 million.

Lisa, we can't thank you enough. You're an excellent example of a sterling Australian and a pretty lousy example of entrenched welfare dependence, considering you worked for 33 years. In fact, I don't even know why anyone would worry about 14 years of welfare dependency for a saving $2.898 million. We could have paid Lisa $898000 in benefits and still saved $2 million (and Lisa and her brother would have had better food and accommodation and she might've been able to care for him longer, and that would've saved more money). 

We should pay carers like Lisa a wage and recognise and validate what they do as work, thus beginning to break the cycle of dependence on unpaid care. If we are to beak the cycle of our nation being dependent on unpaid and unrecognised work, done predominantly by women, we should consider this group as a trial for a basic income. We cannot continue to expect so much while contributing so little. 

This report was compiled at absolutely no cost to anyone. 

Saturday, 17 September 2016

40 years of Welfare Bashing


         It would've been the end of 1976, the weather was warm enough for me to be wearing a summer nightie, and my mum hadn't cut my hair off yet. That came in the great nit plague of 1977. I was chewing on the bobbles attached to the elastic holding my plaits, and sitting next to speaker, attached by thin wires to the turntable playing Abba. I loved watching that record go round and round, and near the speaker, the arguing from the kitchen lost some of its power to seep into every crack of the house like a poisonous fog. That argument was the first time I heard the term "dole bludger". My dad and Brother 2 were going at it again. They were too alike to coexist peaceably.
           "Lazy, good for nothing! You'll never be anything but a dole bludger", roared Dad contemptuously. He had a debilitating stutter, but when he roared there were was no tripping over pesky consonants, no laborious delay in getting his words out. Then he could spit them like darts with a marksmans accuracy. It was 1976. I was 6 that year, brother 2 turned 16 in the December and would've still been recovering from breaking his leg when he was hit by a car getting off the school bus one afternoon about eighteen months earlier. Months in traction. They put him in the adult ward because he was a strapping young man, with guys just back from Vietnam, who'd seen things and suffered things. He was just starting out in the world, and his own family had already written him off. He was going to be a lazy, good-for-nothing dole bludger his whole life, they'd tell anyone who asked after him, and they had raised him better than that. My dad had that Protestant work ethic down pat. They were good, church going, middle class white folk. They never swore, smoked or drank alcohol. Dad paid his taxes and took the family to a nice motel with a swimming pool every summer holidays.
          I remember it so well, because the tension had me staring at that record, going round and round, while dad roared and Brother 2 lacked the preservation skills to say and do what was necessary to end it, until bedtime, and when I got up the following morning, Brother 2 was gone. He never lived at home for any period of length again.  Dad had left, presumably for work, where else would he be with his good Protestant work ethic? And mum was sitting at the table, very still and strange to even my child's eyes.  If you're easily triggered by tales of violence, you may want to skip the next paragraph.

         I got myself ready for school, putting on my sneakers. Red, with white smiley faces on the toes. I'd been wearing them for weeks. I loved them. The smiley faces. My mum saw them, and she saw red. With no smiley faces. She waved a note at me, screeching about uniform, and where were my shoes? I didn't know where my school shoes were. I was six. My school shoes were hard leather that hurt my feet and they were black and dull. Not like my red, smiley sneakers. Long and horrible story short, her anger devolved my kind mother into someone I only ever glimpsed on one other occasion. She yelled the same things at me that dad had yelled at Brother 2, without the term bludger. And then she put her hands around my throat and choked and shook me. I'm a fast learner. You don't want to be a lazy good for nothing with the wrong shoes. I didn't wear sneakers again til last year. I get what happened now. Adult me can recognise the pressure she was under. Husband vs son- she was the loser either way. Child me went to school and didn't tell anyone. Who would help a lazy child with the wrong shoes?

         Brother 2, forever known as a dole bludger, held many jobs, had many adventures and travelled the world. Trotted over more of the globe than any of his siblings. His status as dole bludger never changed. Not matter what job he had, he was too lazy to work. They'd see what he was really like soon, we'd tell ourselves, and then he'd be unemployed again, and then we could say we were right all along. He was always a lazy, good for nothing dole bludger who would never amount to anything due to basic flaws in his character that he must've chosen, because they can't have been genetic or environmental, because we were good, church going, middle class white people, and he was raised better than that. He is on Disability Support Pension now. Injured his back carrying a fridge down a flight of stairs. Lives with constant pain, though it improved after surgery. Brother 1 snorted that it was terribly convenient, Brother 3 declared it to be typical Brother 2 behaviour and older Sister sighed and told us wisely that we all knew the ways of Brother 2. He was a bludger. Always was. Always will be. Only took us forty years of telling him that, forty years of prejudice, of belittling, demeaning abuse, and we made it come true.

          By the time I was a teen, you could see an episode of A Country Practise, guest starring a very young Nicole Kidman as a young unemployed girl suffering malnutrition while living with a group of similarly unemployed young people. They're all shown the error of their ways by Dr Terrence Eliot. The episode was called Repairing The Damage. It was 1984, and unemployed youngster who just had to try harder and they'd be wildly successful (just like Nicole Kidman) was an established trope on Australian television screens. 

            While this was unfolding on our televisions, in our newspapers, and in our homes, sociologists were busy collecting data on the negative outcomes of the unemployed, and their predominantly female counterpart seen to be worthy of even more wrath, the single parent. Mike Willesee, and later his brother Terry Willesee, Derryn Hinch, Ray Martin, Tracey Grimshaw and their radio counterparts, John Laws, Mike Carlton etc etc all made a healthy living, and a percentage of that has been made sledging the dole bludger. It's the shock jocks and talking heads equivalent of a house speciality. 
            They put on their most serious and concerned faces and plead with the viewers to think of the children. Think of the children, or they'll grow up to be good for nothing, dole bludgers. Just like their parents. The reports all focused on and celebrated the negative. 

            The children they were asking us to think of weren't kept in hermetically sealed bubbles. They were right there in the lounge rooms, with the television screens and radios, and nowadays computer screens.  With the newspaper headlines. They were in the schools, staffed by middle class professional people, who taught them about how poverty was the big evil in the world.  The children learned they were disadvantaged, possibly by their parents poor decision making, by luck of the draw, by a change in circumstances, a hundred different reasons. They learned they were "at risk" in a way the children of the middle class were not. 

             They studied a million ways to improve the outcomes of those in poverty. The poor should study. They should get jobs. They should settle for less and work their way up. They should keep their legs shut and not keep popping out sprogs for the tax payer to support. Won't someone think of the children? The children who have been told since they learned to read that unemployment and poverty are bad. While they live with parents that struggle to find work in a floundering economy? Dole bludgers. Can't even keep those kids under control. The same kids who are being taught by those screens, those headlines, and subtly  in school that their parents are lazy, good for nothing dole bludgers. If we want those on welfare to take responsibility for themselves, we have to take responsibility for our substantial part in their disadvantage.

             Welfare recipients live below the poverty line. That is the most substantial contributor to their disadvantage. This is indisputable. Any flaws found in individuals dependent on welfare can also be found in waged, employed individuals, at every level of income. It's the lack of resources necessary to function at optimum levels that drives every aspect of their disadvantage. And yet studies point to everything from childhood abuse to education levels as being more relevant to outcomes than 40 years of welfare bashing in conjunction with living on less than half the average wage. 40 years. The term dole bludger entered our vernacular in 1976. The payment we call the dole hasn't increased in real terms since the 90s, but just lately, the propaganda has.

              There's a reason for that. Welfare dependency data is released next week, along with the $96mill Try, Test, Learn fund. DSP recipients, carers and single parents are the most likely to experience extended periods of welfare dependency,  and ftherefore most likely to experience entrenched disadvantage. If you are not on welfare, you do not feel their disadvantage.  Their disadvantage is not causing you pain, suffering or financial hardship. It's causing them those things. You are not poor because they are welfare dependent. They are poor because they have no recourse other than below poverty line welfare payments. Any money troubles you have are not caused by the poor needing welfare. 

              I'm sorry, Australia, but we really have gotten this equation backwards. We affect the disadvantaged a lot more than they affect us. When the headline reads "dole bludger", or anything to do with welfare, the public violently vomits anger and threats all over social media. Those dependent on welfare see the same headline and they feel fear. Fear of further deprivation, fear of being cut off, fear of homelessness. Cold, stark fear, they're right to be fearful. There are more people depending on welfare payments to survive than there are jobs available, and that is no fault of the welfare dependent. They aren't making policy. They aren't even influencing policy. They are powerless.

             The relationship between Australia and the welfare dependent is an abusive relationship, and the poor are the victims. We restrict their income, institute ever more punitive systems that don't get them off welfare and all the time, they're being told that they're useless, that no one wants them, that they lack education and skills,  they're sluts, they're violent, they're on drugs, they're breeding like animals, that they're parasites who don't contribute and owe us, and we will decide when their slate is wiped clean. They shouldn't be drinking, smoking or having sex that could lead to more kids. They should get up at dawn and waste the time of business owners by knocking on their doors and asking if they have any work, experience or not, and they should do that until dark, when they should watch the news on a big, old fat screen tv and then fall into an exhausted, but miserable sleep on a mattress on the floor and then arise at dawn to repeat the useless process again. We don't even really care if they get a job or not, we just want them to do this to show they WANT a job, which is more important than actually having one in this relationship.

              We've been doing this now for forty years. It's accepted that abuse, mistreatment and poor self esteem can greatly contribute to whether or not an individual lives a prosperous and happy life, or one flooded with disadvantage, but we won't take any responsibility for participating in forty years of abusive treatment of the most disadvantaged. We don't even recognise that it could be a factor. Australia doesn't care about the welfare of those who receive Centrelink benefits because we are so convinced that someone doesn't deserve it. For forty years we've aired messages dripping in prejudice, we've kept millions of Australians at below poverty line rates and called them every name under the sun while blaming them for the country's woes. And for forty years, its been achieving nothing but further disadvantage.

             Australia, it's time for us to shut up about those relying on welfare, because we have all played our part. There needs to be an instant shut down of negative reporting of welfare statistics, mostly because it's the right thing to do, but also because we are never going to have reliable data about welfare dependency and outcomes unless we study the matter without the influence of prejudice and a media machine to drive it. If you want to do something about welfare dependence in Australia, shut up. We haven't actually  tried that yet.

Friday, 16 September 2016

When did we start calling the unemployed NEETS?

The latest round of welfare bashing focuses on a group they're calling the NEETS. NEETs are the new breed of dole bludger. They're aged 15-29 and according to the very somber and serious voice over and some vicious articles, they're  Not in Employment, Education or Training and there's nearly 600,000 of them. Weird, cos the August 2016 figures as cited on from the ABS say " The number of unemployed persons looking for full-time work increased 14,900 to 496,900 and the number of unemployed persons only looking for part-time work decreased by 25,400 to 216,400". 600,000 NEETS, 496,900 full time unemployed. Hmmmmm. I decided this phenomenon needed further investigation, so I braced myself and watched the A Current Affair segment, the one with the very somber and serious voice over, and I'll take you through it. 
       Leila McKinnon introduces the story with animated glee and a heavy emphasis on the keywords "dole bludger", "welfare" and "hardworking taxpayers".
       Our roving reporter repeats the explanation of NEET, because repetition helps us learn. Of course, there is no such welfare group. Not really.  Not in Education, Employment or Training is unemployed. Do I really have to explain this? If you're in education, you're a student, if you're in employment, you're employed or a worker and if you're in training, you're an apprentice or trainee or something. If you're not any of those things, you're unemployed or retired or rich or on holiday. (Or on DSP or Carers Payment).  Aged 15-29? 15 year olds aren't generally included in unemployment  figures, due to all but a small number being in school, but I suppose that's how they manage to have so many  NEETS.
      On with the show- first up we have Ashleigh and Amy, I don't know who's who. The first girl says "I tell them I don't want to work to die. I'd rather be a bum and spend time with my family ". They subtitle that, to make sure you got it. We don't have a clue what question she's answering or who she's telling this to, but it can't be Centrelink because they don't have a form or section where they ask you what you want. They just give you forms to fill out and see if you've filled them in, there is no "Do you want to work? If not, why not?".  She doesn't actually say she doesn't want to work, she says "I tell them....".
       Next we have a  guy at a bus stop.  He says there's work out there but a lot of people don't really fit the criteria. He doesn't say if he's unemployed or not. Then we have a blond guy. He says he's unemployed. That's it. That's all he says. The voice over reminds us this is funded by centrelink, because repetition helps us learn. They cut to an older gentleman, he says he sees a lot of people around and wonders why they aren't in work. He doesn't offer an opinion to why they aren't in work, for all we know he thinks it's because the government controls the unemployment rate. We don't know because we only get the statement that he wonders why they aren't in work.
      The somber voiceover utters an intonation about "can't be bothered to get a job" and then they cut to a blonde woman, who's repeating the old classic about employers wanting experience and being unable to get that experience without work history.
      Again with the 600,000 NEETS, because repetition helps us learn, but now some statistics- 41% want a job and are looking. Good for them. 19% want a job but aren't actively looking. No definition of what actively looking means. Do they mean, are you job hunting now or doing your groceries? We don't know. But that won't stop them flashing up 220,000 as the figure who aren't looking for work. 
          Social services assistant minister  Alan Tudge (he's also the guy championing the cashless welfare card, because oppressing poor people is his portfolio) says the best form of welfare is a job. That's an adorable soundbite. It's wrong, but adorable. A job isn't a form of welfare at all. It's a job. They're totally different things. 
         Back to Amy and Ashleigh, who are described as happily unemployed. They don't actually say that. The younger girl gives the general advice of "live life to the fullest, if you get a job, good on you. If you don't, don't be upset". The girl is 17. That's actually a pretty optimistic attitude and outlook.
           This upbeat attitude in the face of cameras when discussing your disadvantage continues with Tim, who says he lives on $250 a fortnight but that won't stop him being happy, even if after bills and food he has no funds to look for work.  
          All that positivity must've been too much, because now we're back with the blond guy on Newstart, who says "gambling, I love gambling".  We don't know what question he's responding to at all. Could be anything from "what's your biggest vice?" to "what do you miss most about working?". Both are as likely as "what did you spend all your benefits on?".
          Next up is Toula, who's too old to be a NEET.  She pockets $369 a fortnight in taxpayers money. Yes, they said that. She says something about buying petrol and cigarettes but says the kids are her first priority. She then says it's hard to find work, so the reporter goes to the ,coal shopping centre where he says he found 7 job vacancies. We don't know if any of them were actually suitable for Toula, and I was left with the feeling she was expected to do all 7. 
         Alan Tudge, again, saying to take a job of its available and you're capable and that the government have had enough of entitled NEETS, which they only just made up, abusing welfare. (By being eligible for payment). He goes on to say that welfare dependence can be a poison that sucks motivation out of an individual. So can news stories designed to negatively portray the unemployed. Just saying.  Tudge goes on to say that it's a moral challenge that some are on welfare for a long time. No, it's not! For those who cannot work, it's a blessing that they're on welfare for however long is necessary. Some of those people have life long and/or incurable conditions. They can be on welfare as long as necessary.
        More stats. 40% of kids raised in jobless families will receive a benefit by the age of 20. Yeah? The family is jobless, right? So it follows that they're poor? And that when the ftb ends when the kid turns 16, the kid gets youth allowance and the family needs that money because they just lost what ere ftb payment they were getting but that child still needs to eat and stuff? And some of those benefits will be student allowances for people going to uni? And that even with those figures 60% of kids raised in jobless families DONT get benefits by age 20? That's great, by the way. 60%. No benefits. Go them! Just watch those kids raised in poverty soar.
        Cut to a lady in a green hijab. She says kids get addicted to drugs and it's a problem and it's not benefitting anyone. Don't know what that has to do with NEETS. Unless they're just adding drug references to make NEETS look bad even thought they failed to actually associate NEETS with drugs.
        "NEETS are just one part of Australia's welfare crisis". Really? Didn't we already establish it was a term for the already existing unemployed and the young thrown in?.
       A woman tells the camera she didn't finish school, another woman says she wants out of here. A rich man in a suit bemoans, the lady in hijab wisely tells us it's a cycle and nothing  changes and then we're in Broadmeadows, or the Broadie Bronx . They compare Broadie to New Yorks Bronx by showing some graffiti, then state there's crime, drugs and rubbish everywhere. It's bin night. The reporter is literally standing in front of bins, and there's not a lot of rubbish in shot, because it's in the bins.
         A guy piggybacking a toddler says "Welcome to the Bronx". One of the women shown earlier talks about shootings and feeling unsafe. We're informed now that Broadmeadow has an unemployment rate 3 times higher than national average and there's definite pockets of disadvantage. I wonder how any of this NEET story is going to help with that.
        We talk to Lisa, 43 and her daughter Nikita. Nikita is the one we saw earlier who didn't finish school. She seems much less sure of herself than many of the others featured. Lisa is asked if she feels trapped and she agrees that she does. Steve is next. He needs the dole to survive but is desperate for his 15  years old daughter to escape housing commission to escape the "things she's seen". When asked what she's seen, he replies "everything". No one has said a word about not wanting to work.
        The guy in the suit is back. He's David Chalk and he talks about the consequences poor people face by being poor.
         Next up they interview the kids. Articulate girl says she's lived there 4 or 5 years. The voice over intones about kids having spent their entire lives in public housing. She's at least 8-10. She said 4-5 years. And do you know, poor people raising kids their entire lives in public housing is a good thing? Those kids families have affordable accomodation. That's great. That's what it's for. Do these kids feel unsafe? Yes, there's racists who call the Muslims terrorists. Shame on anyone who said such a thing to a child. 
         Back to David Chalk, who says we have to start early to stop people becoming NEETS. We need to start at preschool. And then we finish with the success story of Alan, the man who welcomed us to the Bronx. He WAS relying on welfare, past tense. He's not now. He started his own lawn mowing/handyman business and earns enough to self sufficient. Congratulations, Alan, you receive no welfare, and everything is funky. They made a point of asking he drank or smoked when he received benefits. We're at the end, and the last half was more about the Broadie Bronx and public  housing than NEETS and despite all that, there wasn't even a single definitive statement from anyone saying they didn't want to work. We go back to Leila McKinnon to wrap up the propaganda. In short, nothing but misleading demonisation. 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Lashless welfare- a person centred approach

 The proposed cashless welfare reforms, the brain child of Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, hereafter referred to as Twiggy, was passed by the house of reps, in what the uncharitable side of me suspects was a deal with former social services minister Scott  Morrison, to throw former PM Abbott under the bus in favour of current PM Malcolm Turnbull, get the job of treasurer and sneak the legislation through before anyone had really considered any alternative plan. The ensuing media frenzy over the leadership spill let it go past with hardly a murmur from the same mainstream media that had participated so enthusiastically in entrenching a propaganda of lifters and leaners.

It's officially known as Healthy Welfare. It's not. It's a cashless debit card, with certain merchant code categories blocked, those relating to alcohol and gambling merchants. (Here are the likely initial  codes-5813, 5921,7801, 7802, 7995) 20% will be accessible in cash, via the persons nominated bank account. 20%. For a person on newstart, that's $25.90 a week in cash. Or the equivalent of an average teenagers pocket money. It starts in Ceduna, in Febuary 2016. It affects all working aged welfare recipients except aged and veterans.

This is the plan to stop alcohol, drug and gambling addiction, domestic violence, child abuse and entrenched disadvantage, particularly in remote communities with a predominately indigenous population and high unemployment. It's a breathtakingly, brutally simple plan. Infantilise welfare recipients and restrict their access to things only responsible grown ups can be trusted to manage. Take away their access to cash. Problem solved? 

I don't see how that solves the underlying issues that cause alcoholism, or family violence, or anything in particular, but that's exactly how  both sides of our political spectrum are planning to deal with social problems that happen to real people, in real communities.

I am not a billionaire with mines  near remote communities. I do live in a community with many indigenous residents (shout out Mounty County, 2770!), some of whom may be welfare dependent, and if that's all it takes to design a welfare reform that affects the rights of every Australian, not just the ones CURRENTLY needing centrelink assistance, then I'm willing to have a go. Unlike Twiggy, I've coped with the reality of living on welfare.

People do not walk into Centrelink offices as broken units of employment that are fixed with a job. They're individual human beings, their needs and stories are varied. Simply getting a job cannot be the only goal as it only addresses the financial needs of a person, and that's only part of a persons  welfare. Their welfare depends on them also having food, accommodation, education, social supports, travel, being able to maintain health and set individual goals.  What we have is a payment system, we could do with a real welfare system. One that actually looks to the entirety of a persons  welfare.

If Healthy Welfare is the goal, and that's a goal that isn't without merit, why such a punitive method to achieve so little in terms of supporting the health and welfare of vulnerable Australians? Welfare is a care model, we are all the carers of those who are unemployed, disabled, sick, elderly and young families.  Person centred approaches have been proven to be best practise across a variety of care models, in terms of outcomes, efficiency and user satisfaction. We already have examples of rollouts of person centred models such as the ndis, and we know they work.

A simple, regular self appraisal of a persons health and welfare, probably in the form of a fortnightly questionnaire designed to determine if a person is needing extra supports and capable of directing them to relevant community services in a timely manner. It's both more compassionate and efficient to provide services before untreated issues become problems, and also helps a person to achieve their goals, be they employment related or otherwise.

When a self appraisal form is submitted it either does or doesn't (through self appraised measures) trigger an immediate response from caseworkers, who are provided with resources to recommend and refer clients to relevant services to provide the supports they are requiring. A refuge network operating through Centrelink could provide temporary, secure and anonymous accommodations for those who indicate that their immediate safety is at risk, and support them in planning their long term future, transitioning to new accommodations, etc.

It'll be easier if I just use an example. Let's look at Eddie, 48, partnered, three children, lives in Ceduna, long term unemployed. He's got a couple of convictions, from his younger and wilder years, but that's all behind him now. His has his family, and his extended family all live in town. It's a simple life, they can't afford luxuries and they do the best they can with what they have, he will take any work he can find but nothing's going. These days, Eddies idea of a wild time is the family get together for a BBQ in the backyard and a few drinks. Under Twiggys cashless welfare, Eddie can't have a drink, or gamble, and can only access 20% of his income in cash. With a person centred, lashless approach, Eddies regular self appraisal leads him to see that he has symptoms of depression, and he's directed to help. As he gets his treatment for depression going, his case manager meets with him and they discuss how they can make this work with his goals. He explains that exercise has made him feel a lot better and reminded him of how much he enjoyed sports when he was young and he starts to think about personal training as something he could maybe do, and even help people to feel healthier. Eddie is supported into exploring this option and eventually opens a successful business providing sports activities and training programs  as after school activities for the kids in his community. Eddie and his family transition out of welfare dependence.

Eddies sister, Sarah, had a drug problem. She thought she had it under control, but she began finding it harder and harder to cope with her habit and her day to day life. Her partner, Chris, was concerned that she may need help, and indicated extreme concern for a partner/immediate family member. Chris was counselled with a drug and alcohol worker and felt empowered to discuss the issue with Sarah in a compassionate and non judgmental manner that lead to Sarah self appraising as needing support and getting that support to be healthy in the form of rehab, relationship counselling to help them overcome this problem while keeping their relationship on track, and a plan for finishing her education to achieve her goal of becoming a veterinary nurse . Sarah was given all the tools she needed to succeed again. Cashless welfare stops her buying drugs, but she may never get the support she needs overcome her addiction and find a plan for her future.

All the relevant community services already exist, and these people are already entitled to use them. Its just a matter of making it accessible and letting them be in charge of their lives. Person centred welfare doesn't have to be more expensive than either the current model, or Twiggy's reforms. It's just efficiently using services for the purpose they're designed to be used for. Every Australian is entitled to have their health care needs met, and  access to drug and alcohol services, mental health services, community supports are as  essential  to health as food and exercise. There should be no stigma in having health needs that have to be met. It's simply a furtherment and fulfilment of the original plan for Centrelink, to manage services to people in need of social security as part of the Commonwealth Services Delivery Act, 1997. That didn't change after Centrelink became part of the Department of Human Services after the Human Services Act 2011. 

If an area is self appraising as needing, for example, more drug and alcohol resources due to an influx of drug use in the area, then more services must be provided to fill that need. A community flooded with ice needs help, they don't need their cash cut off. I can hear a voice in the back suggesting to do both, but why take a punitive measure when a compassionate one will be more effective, more efficient, and long term cheaper? We need strong communities, we have to provide the tools for communities to be strong. We can't beat communities down and expect them to be strong enough to be self reliant.

A person centred approach to welfare is simply a better choice. It's better for business, as it's creating a healthy workforce, its better for the economy as it's creating healthy taxpayers that both contribute to the nation and cost less in untreated health issues that spiral into expensive, life/work limiting treatments and/or conditions, i'ts better for the equality of the nation and it's better for the individuals involved.

In the interest of full disclosure because yes, I know how the Internet works, I am permanently dependent on centrelink. I shouldn't have to explain my situation, to state which category of recipient I belong to, to justify my deservingness. That I am permanently dependent should be enough.

 It's not, is it? What if that means I'm a bludger with no intent of ever working? It doesn't. The mythical bludger is a fiction, a handy scapegoat. Those are unemployed people. They are not unemployable. They can't find jobs that aren't there or that they aren't suitable for. I'm not really unemployed, I'm providing a service.  I'm a carer for a young man with autism, an accompanying intellectual disability, sensory processing disorder, non 24 hour sleep/wake disorder, behavioural issues, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, and he's totally non verbal. Are we deserving enough yet? Point being, I have both some experience of life on Centrelink, and a lot of skin in this fight. Furthermore, as a carer, part of my duties involve advocacy. I would be negligent if I were to not to look to his best interests and defend his right to full participation and equality in the community.

From an entirely practical viewpoint, I cannot manage his community participation program, an essential part of which is travel training and learning about money and its value, with $21.35 cash a week (DSP, 18-20, living at home $402.70). I can't teach him different note and coin values with conceptual money on a debit card. His mind doesn't work like that. He needs real, tangible things he can see and touch. ($10 note for a $9 DVD, wait for the change, check, does nine plus one equal ten? Lets check with the other money, yep, that's right)  Learning to manage money is essential to any independence he may be able to achieve, for him be able to fulfil his own needs, for him to be able to self advocate. "I want to buy this" is an act of self advocacy. 

None of us are alone on this island. We all depend on each other, no matter what the anti-welfare propaganda tries to say. I don't drive at the moment, but I still depend on the roads being there to get the goods and people to where they have to be. I'm not in uni, but I depend on higher education to give me the doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers. I've never called the Fire Brigade but I depend on them being there if there's a fire. Not using a service doesn't mean a persons welfare isn't dependent on it's existence. Without a fire brigade existing, we would all be on our own in a fire. We aren't. We know to dial 000. We depend on them answering and providing the service they have been tasked with providing. Our welfare depends on that service being there when we need it. 

Centrelink is no different. Whether you use it or not, you depend on it. To be there when YOU need it, and to pick up the slack and support the people that we, as a nation of carers for our vulnerable, have failed to help get back on their feet. None of us can say with any guarantee if we will or won't need it in our lifetime. It's our right to seek the services we need. If the government wants to decrease unemployment, they have to create jobs, because the alternative methods of making unemployment disappear may buy votes in a tempestuous political climate, but such methods tend to be both unpalatable, and human rights violations. Job seeker networks aren't providing the answer to unemployment, they're just another in a long line of  socialised welfare replaced with voluntary charity funded by corporate religions, and indeed Labor, who have also shown more and more punitive measures. And yet business after business, network after network pops up to take jobseeker funding. And where's that leave the unemployed? With no more work skills than they had before.Cashless welfare endangers people, people who need support. Person centred welfare provides that support. Its just like the fire brigade, we presume people are competent to call if there's a fire. We have to presume they're competent enough to self appraise and advocate in their own best interests. Its simply best practise.

I had planned on pointing out the human rights aspect of this, but I've covered it previously, 
if anyone is interested. 

I've tried hard to not add to the political divide with this. I don't want to keep defending my community from outrageous and unfounded slurs and thus be part of the ideological propaganda of lifters and leaners. Instead, I've proposed a simple, workable alternative that will achieve the desired results while rejecting the mythology of leaners. I don't have an entire ministry of social services at my disposal, or a  billionaires resources, and I'd  never presume to postulate that this is actually an extension of ongoing neoliberal policies, but I'll leave you with this question, if I can think of a better model for welfare reform, why couldn't the relevant parties? 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A Practical Guide to Caging a Child in A School

So, you're a teacher having issues doing your job, which is to teach, due the behavioural challenges of a child with autism? You may wish to follow the example of a public school in  Canberra and have a cage purpose built for that particular child. They did just that. A 2m by 2m "enclosure" made of pool fencing.

Now, as a teacher, you obviously can't just bring your own fencing and modify your classroom, you'll have to follow procedure and  report to the executive staff
 and discuss the issues you're having with teaching your class, and they will undoubtedly expect and encourage you to try other methods, but in Canberra, at least, persistence and concerted effort may result in the executive staff deciding to create a cage.

Once the executive staff has made the decision to erect a purpose built structure to enclose an individual student, its time to figure out how much it will cost. Get some quotes. First, look for builder/designers of kid cages. If there are none in your local area, a pro tip is to look at businesses that make products that can be used to enclose other things than children. Pool fencing should suffice. A general rule is if it can be used to keep a child out, it can be modified to keep a child in. It's best to get more than one quote, so get a couple of fencers to come to your school and quote on how much it will cost to build a structure in a classroom or other area of your school to enclose a specific student, and ask for their expert advice on how big it should be.

Now that you've sorted the design and cost for your cage building, you'll have to figure out how to pay for it. General funding may be acceptable but you may be able to access funding designed to modify the learning environment for students with disabilities, to help them learn. Whichever source of funding you choose, your school principal will have to sign off and approve of cost of the cage that has been built to enclose a specific child, and the helpful school administration staff will handle all the correspondence for you.

Pro tip- while building the cage designed and purpose built for the purpose of enclosing a specific student, the tradespeople may disrupt learning, it helps to do an out door activity until the work is done. It's probably going to require at least two tradespeople, even for a small cage, because panels of pool fencing are quite unwieldy. The cleaners will clean up any mess the tradespeople leave behind.

And there you have it, your very own cage in a classroom, purpose built for the purpose of enclosing a specific student, and all it took was the complicity of many people, a small amount of money and a complete lack of respect for the rights and personhood  of the autistic student in question.
This actually happened. In 2015, Canberra, Australia.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

It's not about tax payers, its about human rights

            Australia has decided it will trial cashless welfare, and will restrict some purchases to welfare recipients, starting with alcohol and gambling, and ending who knows where. They're calling it Healthy Welfare and promoting it as a measure to reduce domestic abuse and child abuse, when it is in fact, inherently unhealthy and likely to entrench abuse and dependency.
             Let me explain how this will work- centrelink (Australia's customer liaison for welfare, and a range of other government services) will issue an eftpos card that will limit both the amount of cash a card holder can access, but also limit the products the card holder can purchase, all while branding a person with a mark of inferiority that they MUST use for every financial transaction. every single transaction. when you get a haircut, when you buy toilet paper, you have to show your healthy welfare card to the person operating the checkout to conduct the transaction, like your very own slave brand.
            A version of this 'income management" has already been trialled in Australia's remote indigenous communities, in response to the trumped up, 2007 "Little Children are Sacred" report, which alleged widespread, entrenched child abuse and led to the introduction of the Basics Card, which limited cash, purchases AND could only be used in selected retailers, all in remote communities that already faced exploitative food costs due to distance and availability. This is significant, because having seen that the public will acquiesce to restricting the rights of some groups if they believe that group is guilty of  violent acts against the vulnerable, the Australian government is now hoping to expand the group of people of those whose rights are restricted, by including the unemployed, people with disabilities, single parents and eventually all welfare recipients except the aged and veterans (and I wouldn't bank on that).
          The officially touted rationale behind this is an idea that welfare recipients are on a frenzy of drug and alcohol fuelled violence and gambling, that impacts negatively on women and children, and creates a dependency cycle that is financed by the tax payer, who receives nothing, or next to nothing, for their efforts. This manages to be false, unsophisticated and very convenient. Its plain wrong.
       Firstly, it is wrong because it presupposes domestic violence and child abuse are more prevalent and more costly and detrimental to society if it occurs amongst people who receive welfare. Secondly, its operating from the fallacy that welfare recipients are a homogeneous group. They are not. they are all distinct individuals who do not share flaws with all others in their income bracket. Thirdly, it presupposes that lack of access to certain substances and products and activities will solve problems as complex and diverse as violent, antisocial and addictive personality traits and that an addict, for example, will cease to be an addict if they get a job. Wrong, they'll just have more money to spend on the addiction. Its not the income source that's the problem, its the addiction. Similarly, a person who assaults an intimate partner or family member doesn't suddenly learn a new method of conflict resolution when they gain employment. It's not the income source that's the problem, its the violent behaviour.
      And perhaps its biggest wrong is in the mistaken idea that its tax payers money, and where that must logically lead. No one is paying tax to pay for welfare, or roads, or education. they're paying tax because they are legally obliged to do so. Its the law. Its the participation fee for being on the winning team, for participating as an individual in a system that found a purpose for you. Yes, tax paid does go into government coffers and is used to pay for services and programs. That's what governments do. They fund things. They provide things in the form of various services, institutions and infrastructure. People pay tax because the law dictates that they do, no one says you have to like it, or be enthusiastic about it, in fact, feel free to shake your fist if you like. It won't change anything, but it might help.
        The general tone in the Australian public at the moment is that tax payers shouldn't have to work hard to fund dole-bludgers (and can we please start spelling that right? Dole, with an E, bludger with a D and a G) and malingerers pretending to be disabled for the mythical welfare perks, like wheelchair ramps and accessibility. Whether this is due to convenience and media manipulation or mass persecution delusion is yet to be determined.
       What any individual paid in taxes and feels they received in return has no relevance to whether
 all individual adults in our society should have full autonomy and agency to make decisions that they          feel/think are best for them, at any given point in time. What any past group of tax payers paid and what society and infrastructure was provided for them to live out their lives in has no relevance to whether any other group should have the exact same rights as any other person or group of people in today's society, regardless of income bracket and tax paid. Get it? The tax anyone paid is not relevant to anyone's rights as a human in our society.
            Whether all Australians should have the same right to autonomy is relevant, because the Healthy Welfare proposals aim to strip that autonomy by depriving a sector of the community of cash and certain products. HealthyWelfare is essentially newspeak for "you haven't paid enough tax to get drunk enough to beat up your loved ones". Ok, it's also newspeak for a lot of other things,but that one is catchy. Insert whatever you like after the "you haven't paid enough tax to..." and you should be able to see that it's plain wrong. "You haven't paid enough taxes to give your children a free education". "You haven't paid enough tax to drive that kind of car, have that kind of phone, wear your hair like that". One persons taxes do not negate another persons autonomy. If they do, then it veers into ownership. "I PAID for this so I will dictate what YOUR necessities are and exercise dominion over you". Ownership of another person is slavery.
            It proves difficult for some to equate a group they are accustomed  to thinking of as lazy people who refuse to work, as slaves, because slaves are almost synonymous with hard work to our way of thinking. In truth, there are many kinds of slavery, but a person who is owned, by a person or by a group of some kind, who had their agency limited and diminished by someone who "paid" for them is not free. They may not fit your concept of enslaved, but they are owned.
      Income Management is really income diminishment. Prior to the 2013 election that saw the Abbott led LNP coalition take power, there was debate about whether the basic rate of newstart, or job seekers allowance for a single person, was actually sufficient to meet the necessities of life in modern Australia. Now that debate is silent and a new debate over how people who receive welfare should spend that money has arisen. There's been no significant change in the benefit paid  but the consensus has changed considerably, from one that recognises the hardship of living on less than half
the average worker, to one that seeks to restrict and add to that hardship, by letting the welfare   recipient know they are now "owned" by the general public, a bit like a celebrity, but with none of the wealth, fame or perks. And without agency to make the same choices as other people in our society.
          When one group is denied rights, essential human rights, it is not the just the domain of warm and fuzzy do gooders, its an affront to all who hold the concept of human rights dear, and that should be every one who enjoys the benefits of human rights. Tax payers, Australian tax payers most certainly, enjoy the benefits of human rights. There's still work to be done, but the Aussie tax payer is generally one of the luckiest people in the world. They even do get more rights than the welfare recipients, without introducing new impingements on the freedoms of others, simply by having more purchasing power. They have to right to choose from a larger range of options simply because they can afford to make a choice from a border range. Less money equals less choice. More money equals more choices and more opportunities to make decisions that will have long term benefit to an individuals quality of life.
       And, if agency and autonomy are paid for in taxes, and lack of payment means lack of right to autonomy and agency, surely then those that pay more taxes should have more rights than those who pay less? In which case, which rights should be stripped from the working class, the middle class, the upper middle class? If the full complement of human rights is only applicable to those who have paid the most tax, at what income bracket will other (inviolable) rights kick in? Will lower income tax brackets have to sacrifice the right to marry, the right to practise religion? The right to education?
      Or will it be the less articulated right of a person to not have their throat slashed by the hungry poor for the purpose of making a healthy, rich ragout? Because no thinking person can believe that basic human rights can be taken away from only some humans, without losing that right yourself. That's how universal rights work. They're for everyone, even people we dislike or disapprove of. Anyone supporting the diminishment of some people's human rights is supporting the diminishment of their own, because they are the same human rights.
        You have the right to work, you have a duty to pay tax on earnings, and you also have a right to social security that doesn't diminish your human rights.