The hope of welfare reforms
Several years ago, when my cousins were little, the day care centre where my aunt worked cut its staff size in half, and my aunt lost her job. My uncle’s salary from his job as a cleaner in the local high school was not enough for their family to live on, so my aunt got a benefit to help tide them over until she could find work.
Over the next few years, their family went on and off the benefit as my aunt got short-term jobs waiting tables in restaurants. The work was hard, the hours were long and often at night, and the pay was very low. Hoping for something better, my aunt took advantage of the opportunity to do some career training that came along with her benefit, and she trained to become a primary teacher. At the end of her training, my aunt got a job, which she has now held for the past twelve years, becoming one of the most popular teachers in her school and a trainer and mentor for younger teachers.
My aunt’s is a story that I’m sure we would all love to see replicated for the thousands of working-age people on benefits today. The benefit system, after all, was put in place to support people when they were hit by the challenges of life—loss of a job, loss of a partner, or loss of health—and to help get them back on their feet. This is what Michael Joseph Savage envisioned when he introduced social security in 1938.
Unfortunately, we’ve come a long way from Savage’s initial vision and the world in which his welfare state was introduced. For too many people today’s reality is not one of falling on hard times, getting support, and getting back on their feet, but rather falling on hard times, failing to get proper support, and remaining in those hard times.
The Government’s welfare reforms, most of which went into effect this week, are aimed at changing today’s reality. They’re aimed at providing those most likely to remain on a benefit long-term with more support in accessing training and finding and keeping work. Whether or not the reforms will be successful at doing this, only time and evaluation will tell. But let us hope that over the next few years we hear more stories like my aunt’s, stories of people taking advantage of the opportunities available to them to get back on their feet.