The Socialist Alliance supports universal welfare rights for all. We are opposed to the principle of “mutual obligation” upheld by both the Coalition and the Australian Labor Party, because this is forces people into low-paid, alienating work while sabotaging existing wages and conditions for those in work.
Under Kevin Rudd the ALP has almost totally capitulated to the Howard government’s view of mutual obligation. It has even abandoned the approach of the Keating government’s Working Nation program to embrace the underlying principles of Howard’s Dickensian welfare-to-work approach.
The Socialist Alliance says that it is not true that any job is better than no job at all or that lowering the cost per job created should be the main goal of welfare policy: we stand instead for welfare payments above the poverty line combined with the creation of useful work.
Those who are presently on welfare shouldn’t be “breached”, or forced into meaningless “training” schemes or underpaid, demeaning jobs, but educated and trained to be part of the workforce.
Let’s always remember what Labor wants to forget: the welfare system was fought for and won by the working class over generations in order to protect its members from the unemployment, exploitation and poverty intrinsic to capitalism. The old age pension was introduced in 1908, and the last big win for working Australians was the introduction of the supporting mother's benefit in 1972.
But the end of the post war boom saw the start of efforts to roll back the welfare state. It was the ALP which introduced the assets test on the age pension, ended non-means-tested family allowances and reduced young people's access to payments. This signaled the start of hundreds of changes, all designed to reduce payments, tighten eligibility criteria or impose waiting periods.
For a decade now the Howard government, like pro-business governments everywhere, has been intensifying this attack on welfare rights, shirking its responsibilities to those most in need.
Reporting requirements and the breach system subject people receiving welfare payments to a culture of judgment and blame for their own misfortunes. Non-payment periods imposed as punishment for breaching benefit conditions risk forcing them out onto the street. Indigenous Australians are the most victimised—in the third quarter of 2006 in Western Australia 30% of “breaches” were imposed on Indigenous people, despite being only 3% of the population!
The Socialist Alliance says welfare payments for all those in need are a right. We call for a guaranteed independent income for all at a living wage, and a welfare system capable of providing to each according to their level of need.
That requires a big expansion in the welfare budget in the short term, as a necessary way of supporting people on welfare in decent conditions, while training and equipping them for useful work. But such an increase can readily be afforded—in 2003 Australia was spending only 17.9% of GDP on public social expenditure compared to the average for advanced industrial countries (the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development) of 20.7% , and way below Sweden’s 31.3%.
Aside from the welfare system, a comprehensive welfare justice platform also needs to address effects of poverty such as homelessness and poor nutrition. Other policies of the Socialist Alliance have been developed to related issues, such as in health care, education, housing, civil liberties, the rights of asylum seekers and issues affecting Indigenous Australians.
With this in mind, we propose the following measures as essential to welfare justice in this country: