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Centrelink is designed to fail the most vulnerable

Date

Amy Corderoy

Julia Glichrist: Difficulty keeping a job due to deafness, but “not disabled enough" to qualify for disability support.

Julia Glichrist: Difficulty keeping a job due to deafness, but “not disabled enough" to qualify for disability support. Photo: Brendan Esposito

The emails are heart-breaking. People, young and old, responding to the story of Julia Gilchrist, a successful young woman who has had trouble holding down a job because she is profoundly deaf, but has been told she is “not disabled enough” by Centrelink to qualify for disability support.

There is the mother fielding job application phone calls for a deaf son who was made redundant a month ago. So far ten companies have responded to his resume.

“But as soon as I mention [he] is hearing impaired they do not wish to go to the next level,” she writes.

Another woman, 50, had worked for 30 years in data entry before being made redundant. She too is deaf, and is at the mercy of a Centrelink job provider who cannot find her work.

“It is the most frustrating, depressing experience anyone can go through,” she writes.

And it is not just deaf people who have been told they are not disabled enough. In Western Australia, Prue Hawkins, 33, who has brittle bone disease and is confined to a wheelchair, has been given the same response.

A government-commissioned review has recommended pushing more people who are apparently "able to work" off the disability support pension and on to the dole.

There, they will be stuck in a world Franz Kafka himself could not have dreamed up, where the deaf are expected to receive vital information over the phone, and people in wheelchairs expected to apply for jobs at their local supermarket.

It may seem incomprehensible, but anyone who has ever had the misfortune of ending up in a Centrelink queue knows this is just the next logical step in a long history of Liberal and Labor “reforms” to welfare.

Our “welfare” system is not about welfare, it is about punishment. Years of demonisation of the unemployed by tabloid newspaper and TV scare campaigns has made it acceptable in our community for governments to design a system that forces people in need through as many humiliating and unpleasant hoops as possible to get their measly $35 or so a day.

One emailer tells how she has been made suddenly redundant from an $80,000-a-year job.

“I got $260 a fortnight which did not even pay my rent, let alone bills, food and getting to job interviews,'' she writes. ''I came up against constant requirements to undertake ‘job ready’ courses, such as learning how to turn a computer on and off, and open [Microsoft] Excel and Word.

“Insulting and embarrassing would be putting it mildly.”

My own experience on finishing university in 2007, mid-way through the year before many graduate hiring programs began, is similar. I only had a couple of shifts a week in my bar job and was switched from youth allowance to the dole to supplement my income.

A distinction average student with first class honours, I was immediately put into compulsory "job seeker training", where nine to five every day I went to an office and filled in an "employment workbook", before working nights at my bar job.

I filled in a “skills audit” worksheet, where I ticked whether or not I had skills such as “purchasing” and “estimating physical space”.

I was ''taught'' not to call people asking for work with a mouth full of food, or lie on my resume.

I quit before I got to the interview training week, where my workbook informed me I would be told to wear high heels and “wash, bathe or shower and use a deodorant”.

And while I briefly regretted that decision when, soon after, I developed a serious sickness and was without income for two weeks, I was grateful to know I would, within a few months, most likely get a full-time job.

I was privileged enough to bet on myself, and win, and I hope I never had to rely on Centrelink again.

But many thousands of Australians will not be so lucky. Young people just starting out or people with a disability – particularly mental illnesses, which are the most heavily stigmatised of all medical conditions – will suffer greatly.

As the former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes has pointed out, the government is fixing a problem of job availability by attacking welfare availability.  

The result will be countless more little humiliations, unremarked upon and unreported, but slowly chipping away at the self-esteem and opportunities for those of us who are most vulnerable. 

118 comments

  • ''...They will be stuck in a world Franz Kafka himself could not have dreamed up, where the deaf are expected to receive vital information over the phone, and people in wheelchairs expected to apply for jobs at their local supermarket.''

    Is this not indicative of a government who clearly has no idea of what it is doing?
    If it is not, then the scenario of a vengeful (social engineering) government is far worse...

    Commenter
    Jump
    Date and time
    July 07, 2014, 6:53AM
    • Please,
      I have a close family friend, profoundly deaf from birth. She is tertiary qualified, a Supervisor Civil Engineer, a black belt in Judo who was accepted into the AIS, married and has a terrific little kid. She was able to do this because all through her life her parents never wrapped her in cotton wool, let her fight her battles and told her nothing was impossible. On top of all else she wants to enter the Hawaiian Iron Man.

      Commenter
      Mckenzie
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 8:54AM
    • Mackenzie, that is great about your friend's daughter.

      However, unless you know the circumstances of others, or have walked a mile in their shoes, suggesting that they cannot get a job because "they have been wrapped in cotton wool" is ridiculous.

      Commenter
      Jans
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 9:52AM
    • @ Mckenzie
      Wow, that's amazing. If she can do it, then that must mean that everyone else who is on unemployment benefits is just lazy. I guess that means that there's no reason to feel guilty for cutting as much out of social welfare as possible to lower taxes so you can maybe buy those leather seats with your new car, or maybe even an extra slice of banana bread with your coffee in the morning.
      I mean after all, they just aren't trying hard enough right?

      Commenter
      Scott
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 10:02AM
    • Jump: "Is this not indicative of a government who clearly has no idea of what it is doing?"

      The answer to this is NO. The governments which have implemented these policies, both Labor and Liberal, know what they're doing. They have Public Service departments which are experts in this and under no circumstances can they plead that they didn't go into it eyes open.

      The policies which have long been inflicted on the unemployed and have recently been extended to people with disabilities are not "mistakes". They are deliberate cruelty.

      Commenter
      Greg Platt
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 11:18AM
    • I know of people without legs and arms that have been refused D/P, while full-abled bodied people are unemployed and struggling to get jobs, the people who are pushing these attitudes in gov and society are doing incredible harm to our culture.

      What amazes me is the arrogance of some of the job providers as was pointed out in the article...I know of some who have had to sit in class rooms being lectured about the appalling resumes and application letters of professional such as Drs etc.....as if the words on a piece of paper in a job application are all that matters in all positions, such as tradies, and medical professions, ....to me some of these orgs, go out of their way to tar all unemployed with the same brush, virtually telling them across the board as the article states that they need to wear deodrants etc......a process of humiliation because a person happens to find themselves 'unemployed'........

      Commenter
      penury
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 12:53PM
    • Doesn't anybody else think it's weird that someone who was making 80K and made redundant complains about not having enough money to get to job interviews?

      Redundancy payments are taxed at a lower rate to help the person cope with the expense of transitioning into other employment. She would have gotten a sizeable package on that money (depending on years of service of course) and should have enough to cover those expenses. But of course the author doesn't go into that level of detail because it doesn't suit their argument.

      Commenter
      Let's make sandwiches
      Location
      Wollongong
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 4:47PM
    • Kingstone.....Do you know how much it costs for someone who has a disability to exist in society?....many have to buy expensive wheelchairs and other aids if they are deaf and blind,and without limbs etc, not to mention their ongoing medical costs, and they have to make sure their houses are fitted out with aids to help them in everyday life and often have to pay extra for help......and you are suggesting they should be able to do this on the newstart allowance?

      Everybody on D/P has been assessed by centrelink Drs to be eligible for the pension from my understanding, and yet your inference is that many shouldn't be on it, because why?

      Commenter
      Od
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 7:01PM
  • The unemployed and boat people are the 2 main groups governments score point on by being as cruel as possible to them,in order to receive the vital few percent of votes to form a government.

    Commenter
    got milk
    Location
    dreaming
    Date and time
    July 07, 2014, 6:54AM
    • The Disability Pension is for those who are too disabled to work. Not for those who simply can't get a job.

      Commenter
      Kingstondude
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 6:59AM

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