The Australian Council of Social Services will use this week’s jobs and skills summit to push for a hefty increase to jobseeker payments and new measures to get Australia’s 750,000 long-term unemployed people back into the workforce, including paid work trials.
Ahead of the summit, which begins on Thursday in Canberra, Acoss has revealed it will lobby government, business, unions and civil society to make full employment “the core goal” in a bid to reduce the social harms of joblessness. Tackling entrenched joblessness would remove “one of the biggest roadblocks” to hitting that target.
“With ambition and commitment we can create an economy where people secure the jobs and paid working hours they need, wages and other incomes – including jobseeker payment – are growing again, and no one is left behind,” Edwina MacDonald, the acting chief executive of Acoss, said as she released her group’s summit paper.
While the jobless rate has dipped sharply since Covid – reaching a 48-year low of 3.4% in July – the tally of those on long-term unemployment benefits remains stubbornly high.
As of March, 760,000 had relied on such support for at least a year, and 610,000 for more than two years, the Acoss paper said. Standard definitions of long-term unemployment excluded many people on joblessness payments because of health problems, disabilities and other barriers to employment, it said.
“The social harms of high unemployment, which is a major cause of poverty, income inequality, anxiety and depression, and social fragmentation, would be averted” if full employment can be achieved, the paper said.
Of those claiming jobless benefits, about 40% had a “partial work capacity”, 13% were First Nations people and 12% were the main carers of young children, mostly as sole parents. About 57%, or 530,000, were aged older than 45.
MacDonald called for an annual “job and training offer” that would better prepare people for work and connect them with more opportunities than Work for the Dole and other existing programs. These could include paid work trials and vocational training.
Acoss also argues that the lowest income support, such as the jobseeker payment, should be increased from $46 to $70 a day. That rise, which would bring the support to the same level as the pension plus related supplement, should also be indexed to wages as well as prices.
“To lift people out of poverty and strive for full employment, it is critical that we have adequate income support so that people can cover the basics and search for employment,” MacDonald said.
Among the priorities of the summit should be the promotion of pay equity for women, particularly by a fairer recognition of “the value of their skills, experience and qualifications”.
Investments in industries that address global warming, such as retrofitting homes to improve energy efficiency, would also help people cut energy bills. A special focus would also be needed on reskilling workers in fossil fuel industries to “ensure a just transition”, the paper said.
Acoss said there is a need for more competition in concentrated markets, such as energy, transport, retail and banking, where dominant businesses push through larger price rises.
Taxes should be used to “curb counter-productive speculation in assets such as housing”, including lifting the rates of capital gains tax.
The government should set up a standing advisory council, supported by “expert commissions” to meet these goals.
Separately, CPA Australia, the country’s peak accounting body, warned that staff shortages in the industry could hinder future economic growth.
The number of ads for accountants had soared 34.3% in June from a year earlier, CPA said, citing data from Seek.
“Accountants prepare the financial and non-financial data that business and governments rely on to make decisions on investment and jobs creation,” CPA said, ahead of the summit. Many consumers also relied on them at tax time.
CPA also called for a “significant increase” on the cap for skilled migrants and clearer processes to allow more overseas accounting students to secure longer-term visas.
• The subheading of this article was amended on 29 August 2022. The Australian Council of Social Services is lobbying for full employment, not “full unemployment” as an earlier version said, to be the core goal of government, business, unions and civil society.