The Federal Australian government is currently on the warpath. In their sights: cost cutting. The latest casualty: welfare payments. One of the biggest losers in the proposed changes put forward are young people. This isn’t the first time a government in Australia has targeted young people and welfare payments however it is the first time the current government has tried. This particular government had a report into welfare reform written which explicitly links policy directives on young people being in education, training or employment with access to welfare payments.
The McClure report sets out that young people under the age of 22 would not be eligible for stand alone welfare payments and only those young people involved in education or training would be eligible at all. This links education with welfare in a way that says our education system is appropriate for all young people. It requires study when for some young people this is neither available nor appropriate. It asserts power over young people in a way which has not been done before in Australia.
This proposed suite of changes was met with unprecedented backlash from the youth sector with every state and the national peak bodies condemning its lack of consultation and care fore young people. While the report recognised that some young people will be living independently, it is unclear on how they will be assessed to be “genuinely independent” and eligible to receive an income payment in their own right. Joanna Siejka, CEO of YNOT stated, “The report presumes that young people are not willing to engage in education, training and employment, but research shows that young people are increasingly wanting to engage in these activities and do not want to be on welfare”.
This backlash from the youth peaks shone a light on a significant issue which is often not addressed by government. Why do governments struggle to support young people? There are a number of reasons however the biggest one is that for the most part young people cannot vote and are therefore not considered part of the constituency. If young people don’t have a vote then they do not count in the policy making process. Some governments will go beyond this focus, however more often than not young people face the brunt of cost cuts and policy changes.
Government needs to understand that just because their term in office is 3-4 years that young people have a long memory. Young people are the future and if we hurt them now they will remember when they are able to vote. This happened in the 2007 federal election in Australia and it will happen again. Young people must be treated with respect by government for longevity in politics. More than that it is just plain decency.