Federal Politics

Work for the dole has little effect on finding work: review

The Coalition's $1 billion work-for-the-dole scheme has improved the probability that an unemployed person will find a job by just 2 percentage points, a government-commissioned review has found.

A 90-page academic evaluation of the program concluded that the chance of getting a job had risen – but off a low base.

Minister for Women and Employment Michaelia Cash was a big winner in Malcolm Turnbull's new-look cabinet.
Minister for Women and Employment Michaelia Cash was a big winner in Malcolm Turnbull's new-look cabinet. Photo: Janie Barrett

"It is estimated that in the short-term [work for the dole] resulted in an additional 2 percentage point increase in the probability of job seekers having a job placement controlling for other characteristics (from a low baseline of 14 per cent)," researchers from the Australian National University's Social Research Centre concluded.

"Furthermore, moving off income support increased by an additional 2 percentage points, compared to what would occur in the absence of [work for the dole] (from a baseline of 13 per cent)."

Job seekers browse job notices in Melbourne.
Job seekers browse job notices in Melbourne. Photo: Bloomberg

Work for the dole has been operating nationally since July 1 last year.

The Abbott government trumpeted work for the dole as a "door" to getting more unemployed people into work. "It is helping to open doors for job seekers and help people move from welfare to work," former employment minister Eric Abetz said in May last year, just before the program went national. A Senate estimates hearing heard that 52,000 people participated in the program in the first six months but more than 20,000 of those did not remain in the program for that entire period.

Bureaucrats from the Department of Employment, who tabled the evaluation report, could not say how many of those people had found jobs and how many had left for job training or other pre-employment schemes.

The review, which cost $340,000, could not put numbers on how many people found employment as a consequence of participating in work for the dole due to the "relatively short timeframe for the evaluation" of eight months.

But researchers found a positive response from a majority of participants, with two-thirds saying their "soft skills" – or people skills – had increased.

Improved ability to work with others was noted by 72 per cent of participants, 69 per cent said their confidence had improved and 65 per cent said their general work skills had improved.

Work for the dole jobs are typically low-supervision, menial tasks such as cleaning and labouring, but can include more bizarre activities. Fairfax Media reported in 2014 that one group in Adelaide had been assigned to making World War I dioramas for RSL clubs and another group was helping restore military aircraft.

The national scheme will cost about $1 billion over three years. It was forecast that 150,000 jobseekers a year will be in the program when it is fully operational.

Some of the jobs providers raised concerns that the name of the scheme was a negative but Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said there was no plans to find an alternative to "work for the dole".

Senator Cash clashed with Labor senator Doug Cameron who she accused of using unparliamentary language. That was in response to Senator Cameron's insistence that: "You want to screw unemployed people, we want to help them."

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