"Jobs programs work best when they actually increase peoples' skills": Professor of economics Jeff Borland. Photo: Supplied
A respected workplace economist says there is no evidence ''work for the dole'' schemes work, accusing the federal government of expanding the program for political rather than economic reasons.
The government will force job seekers to look for 40 jobs a month and perform up to 25 hours of community service as part of a new job placement program, set to begin on July 1, 2015.
Details of the three-year, $5.1 billion program were released on Monday, along with an overhaul of the work-for-the-dole program.
Howard-era dole scheme: Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker said taxpayers expected the unemployed to be looking for work, and that it was ''not unreasonable to expect job seekers to be out there looking for work, every working day.''
But Jeff Borland from the University of Melbourne - who conducted the only empirical study of the Howard government's work for the dole scheme - says years of research show such schemes are unlikely to help people find jobs.
''The international evidence is overwhelming,'' Professor Borland said. ''It's hard to believe that the government couldn't understand that this isn't the best way to improve peoples' employability.
"It is not reasonable to expect job seekers to be out there everyday looking for work": Luke Hartsuyker. Photo: Harrison Saragossi
''I guess you have to conclude that there are other reasons for wanting to expand the program, and the title of the scheme [work for the dole] suggests it's being done for political reasons … Jobs programs work best when they actually increase peoples' skills - often through a formal qualification - and when they provide a pathway to a permanent job.
"So you could have a scheme where someone links up with a not-for-profit, who then provides them with a job in the hospitality sector, and they're then able to get a qualification for the hospitality sector.
"I've suggested there should be a scheme where social entrepreneurs could apply for funds for employment-related initiatives where there are fewer top-down restrictions as there are in work for the dole programs.''
Under the proposed overhaul, job seekers under 30 will be ineligible for welfare payments for six months after applying for benefits, and will have to work 25 hours a week for six months of the year.
Those between 30 and 49 will be asked to do 15 hours' work a week for six months a year, while those aged 50-60 will undertake 15 hours a week of an approved activity, such as training.
But young job seekers will also have to apply for 40 jobs a month and meet other activity requirements for unemployment benefits.
The Business Council of Australia said it welcomed parts of the government's new model, such as the clearer targeting of assistance at people most in need, and the focus on rewarding job outcomes, but more action would be needed to find the right balance in connecting job seekers with employers.
"We are concerned about the practicality of asking people to apply for 40 jobs each month in the current softening labour market,'' Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said.