August 24, 2014

The Week Ahead In Pictures . . .

.... Bill Shorten earnestly considers heading over there, away from the media glare - for some Icelandic "me time." It's either that - or spending quality time at home (AWOL) decluttering his over-stuffed closet.

And with the budget in emergency mode, Joe Hockey considers the feasibility of a VPL (Visible Panty Line) levy. It could be the one desperate and untried measure, that  reigns in the dollars needed to cover PPL, and other LOL reforms and initiatives.

                                         Early VPL adopters endorse it...

And still reeling from recent media malfunctions and subsequent conniptions dire need of a makeover that reflects the government's new brand -Team Australia - Joe Hockey looks to Hollywood's A-Team for inspiration.


So could this be the prototype of a newly manscaped, and sensitive bro-Joe?

Or, perhaps a Postman Pat makeunder the obvious solution?

August 19, 2014

Pin the Tail on the Donkey! [From Guest Writer, Monica]

Episode One

What’s it like trying to find suitable, affordable and liveable accommodation for rent in one of the world’s most expensive cities, whilst you’re receiving the Newstart allowance? (Pardon me, but isn’t an *allowance* something that parents give their kiddies to go to the movies and stuff)?

Dealing with unscrupulous real estate agents and landlords, a bull raging housing economy, knowing you don’t have much money to spend on the move or finding new digs, makes a girl as giddy as being blindfolded and spun around and being told to *pin it* - the tail on the donkey that is. 

Your chances of finding something liveable on such a meagre income are equally as likely as sticking the donkey tail in the right spot.  Blind folds do come in handy though when looking at some of the places on offer though.

Quite frankly I’d like to play pin the tail on the donkey with a line-up of those ministers in governments current and previous, who are responsible for making our welfare system, and human services department one of the most punitive, unhelpful, and demoralising, and the word *human* should be taken out of it.

Not only are rents exorbitant for working folk, just imagine what it’s like for those whose total income from the government doesn’t even cover the rent, even with rental assistance.

The move is not a choice, I repeat *not* a choice and neither is the location of where we are to move. When you’re receiving the unemployment benefit you are forbidden from moving to an area where rents are cheaper because employment in those areas is usually lower. The owner of my property had asked my flatmate and I to vacate his apartment as he wanted to move in. Some people think that’s a euphemism for “I want you to move out so that I can renovate and put the rent up even higher”. Particularly if you live in a hipster suburb like I did.

There is much talk in the mainstream media about renting versus owning, but scarce information about renting on a benefit. I do recall seeing a few articles around March but nothing substantial.

The rent versus ownership argument often states that renters are at the mercy of increasing high rents, Landlords turfing them out when they smell a rise in the market and want to sell to capitalise on that.

Call me a *filthy* old communist but I believe houses should be for living in, not a commodity to get rich at someone else's expense. Finding a place that’s affordable on Newstart, near public transport, (we don’t drive) and relatively close to a CBD for potential work is near impossible. If you have a pet of any kind you’re almost erased from the market altogether. Not to mention the kinds of dwellings on offer and the real estate buzz words to draw you in.

Here is a list of some of the doosies we encountered.

Old world charm!
Old world indeed! Some other world perhaps, other worldly, but certainly no charm in my part of the world

Ornate Fixtures
Were they referring to the person asleep on the front step when we arrived for the open house inspection? “Just step over them” said the property manager.

Your own private cosy courtyard!
Our front step was bigger than the cement slab out the back on offer in this place.

Cute and Cosy
Where is the living room!

Close to transport
You’re living on the train line

It’s worth a look
Actually it’s not

Be near the action
The main highway is just outside your front door, or you’re above a shop.

One/ Two bedroom cute home
It only has one bedroom; the other tenants turned the living room into a second bedroom to keep the rent down. Plus! the hallway was so narrow you couldn’t carry any furniture through it and the only way to get your furniture in was to remove the very large front window of the house.

Gardeners delight!
Previous tenants were market gardeners and turned the entire yard into a raised vegetable garden, complete with chicken wire around what looked like dead olive trees, which was impossible to maintain.

You’ll have to be quick this one won’t last.
Too bloody right it won’t last, it’s on its last legs and I can’t believe it’s passed a building inspection code, for being *liveable*. It probably hasn’t.

Partly Furnished!
Previous tenants left a couple of wardrobes they got from Vinnie’s - not that there is anything wrong with purchasing from Vinnie’s, but I’d rather choose my own.

Freshly Painted and Carpets Cleaned.
Stinks like old wet dog and cat urine and it’s easier to paint over peeling wallpaper and mould than it is to do something about it.

So what did we settle on you ask?

With time running out and scary thoughts of homelessness, it was a miracle that a 2 bedroom semi, advertised as being in original condition with plenty of character features turned out to be ok. I honestly didn’t think it was going to be much but here is the upside- it was below market rent (still very expensive though) and something that we could afford but only just. It wasn’t stuck out in the burbs miles away from transport, shopping centres or health facilities, or nestled alongside the railway line. There was room to move, ok size bedrooms, a front and backyard, pets weren’t a problem, and the bathroom is big with an old fashioned big bath, ahhh!, how I love those for my tired old bones, haven’t had one in years!

The down side - We have to share the front porch with the neighbours, who, so far, seem to think the front of the house is an ashtray, a garbage bin and a storage facility. The old fella out the back of the house is a fiendish chain smoker. He smokes so much that we have to keep the bathroom door closed as it leaches into the living room and I just love the smell of sickly sweet nicotine flooding the house. 

Relaxing in the bath is almost impossible unless you want to give yourself lung cancer. I had to clean dirt and mould off of the doors both inside and out, oil and grease on the kitchen walls and shelving. The stove was the filthiest I had ever seen, and it took days and days to get it to a condition that I actually felt comfortable putting food near it or on it. It was so rusted I didn’t think the gas would actually get through. 

The plaster is peeling off the walls. The carpet is disgusting and there is a pungent foul smell that comes up through the floor boards and carpet. It’s an ice box in winter. There is no storage space at all. The kitchen is pokey and I have to close the back door which overlooks the sloping back yard (I’ll get to this in a moment) to get to the food in the cupboards. The laundry is outside, very small, the paint is peeling off the walls; I guess they forgot to paint that bit. The washing machine has to fit in sideways not front on, and you can’t get anything else in there with it. 

The screen doors are hanging by rusty bent nails. The fence palings were literally flapping up and down in the recent strong winds we experienced. When I cleaned the bath I found a merkin hiding in the plug hole eeeeek! Maybe I could sell it, anyone need one? I do love a backyard but preferably not one that slopes downwards, has little drainage and turns into a muddy pond when it rains.

The younger of our close neighbours, but still old enough to be a mature adult, has apparently mistaken our front lawn for his driveway and parks his trucks on it. On our second night we were treated to a welcoming party. How nice to listen to the dulcet sounds of heavy metal coming from the front porch late into the night and early hours of the morning. 

Neighbour had invited his charming friend over and both were busy downing plenty of alcohol and cannabis. They seemed to think that this was a reasonable way to spend a Tuesday night. I went shopping the following day, and neighbours friend was sleeping in an upright position on the delightful and stylish brown couch on the front porch - with his mouth open and snoring. I was gone for quite some-time, only to return with him still in the same spot, beer bottle in one hand, illicit substance smoking implement in the other, head down and snoring like a trooper. His charm was outmatched by the stunning soccer ball ham balding patch at the back of his head, and who was he trying to fool with that pony tail. 

Maybe they had been playing ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’. After all, it’s easy to understand how someone could have mistaken his bald patch for a donkey’s ass. I really wanted to give it a good poke, but decided it was best not to disturb it in its nest. So I pulled my shopping trolley clacking it all the way up the stairs, fantasising about building a brick wall between their side and our small side of the porch to block the unsightliness of it all.

To be continued…



August 11, 2014

10 Job Seekers Per Vacancy: A Reality Check On Welfare Overhaul

 Author:  Veronica Sheen, Monash University

It turns out that the policies for under 30s in the federal budget in May were a precursor to a much wider set of changes affecting unemployed people across the board. These are just now coming to light. While people aged 30 and over won’t have to face a potential six-month wait to receive payments, nevertheless the Newstart unemployment payment is to become a much more conditional payment, with a considerably tougher set of eligibility requirements.

As a reminder, the full payment for a single person for Newstart Allowance is $255.25 a week. The rate of payment has been widely criticised as inadequate by many groups including the OECD and Business Council of Australia, which makes the point that its low level is actually a barrier to effective job searches and employment.

Nevertheless, the government is proposing to make sure recipients “earn” every cent of this payment through an expanded “work for the dole” program for recipients up to the age of 49. People aged 50-60 will be required to undertake an “approved activity” under “mutual obligation”. Another new obligation is that people receiving Newstart will have to apply for around 10 jobs a week or 40 a month, roughly double the current requirement.

In fairness, the government is also saying that it will improve the employment services system to help people in their work search endeavours. This has been a theme for as long as I can remember in government efforts to increase employment services outcomes since the mid-1980s. But, however “effective and efficient” the service provider can be made, receiving a Newstart Allowance will be a singularly tough gig for anyone unfortunate enough to lose a job, or to be looking for a job after finishing a stint in education and training.

Greater “work for the dole” and work search requirements also have far-reaching implications for employers and organisations who host “work for the dole” programs.

More applications does not make more jobs

The overall unemployment rate is now 6%, and 13% for 15-24 year-olds. In May there were 146,000  job vacancies with 720,000 people unemployed. Another 920,000 were underemployed and wanting more hours of work. Underemployment is a very important labour market indicator as, under the terms of internationally agreed labour statistics collection, an individual is counted as employed if working one hour a week for pay or profit.

Altogether, these figures mean 1.64 million people who have no work or not enough work are potentially competing for available job vacancies.

While the labour force underutilisation rate of 13.5% suggests that there are around 10 potential job applicants for each vacancy, we need to consider that some sectors of employment will have very large pools of applicants. This applies especially to those jobs with broader skills requirements.

This is the core reality of the Australian job market. The intensification of job search requirements means people receiving Newstart will be coerced into applying for many jobs that they have very little chance of obtaining.

No one suggests that they shouldn’t be doing what they can to find a job, but futile applications for jobs serve no purpose but to tick the boxes to receive a payment. It is an immense strain on the unemployed person – as if being unemployed and living on Newstart isn’t hard enough.

Employers can expect to sort through
 hundreds of applications completed by job seekers
 having to submit 40 a month.

The government might also consider the burden it imposes on employers and employment service providers. Many employers will be inundated with unsuitable applicants. We might speculate that they will be less inclined to advertise positions attracting hundreds of applicants, perhaps opting for more informal means of recruitment.

At the same time, employment service providers will be tasked with pushing unemployed people into inappropriate job search efforts.

A further consideration is how “work for the dole” is to be expanded. Having worked in a number of NGOs, I am well aware that it is no simple task to take on a “volunteer” in terms of supervision and support; even more so someone who is mandated to do unpaid work so that they have some income to live on. It is an invidious and very unpleasant scenario for the type of organisations that the government wishes to impose on for “work for the dole” places.

And as economist Jeff Borland  has pointed out in The Conversation, the outcomes of “work for the dole” program are very weak and largely a waste of time.

The question then must be asked: what is the government trying to achieve? Certainly, the outcome of its new policies for under 30s and the imminent policies for anyone on Newstart will be more stigmatisation for being unemployed, and more deterrence to making claims for payments.

Perhaps, there are some other motives related to long-term reduction in minimum wages, with more people prepared to work under the counter just to survive, as suggested in a thoughtful article by Fiona Scott-Norman in The Big Issue (July 4-17).

The final word on being unemployed

It’s worth recalling that it is very hard now being unemployed and in receipt of Newstart. I will let a woman in her early 50s who I interviewed for my doctoral research have the final word:
On Newstart there is constant pressure. Most of my time [is] taken up with job searching. In this time (three years) I have applied for over 600 jobs with a rate of one interview for every ten jobs I applied for. And out of these, resulted in two jobs … but only lasted the extent of probation. I found myself underperforming due to depression and lack of confidence. 

By the way, she had a university degree and had worked many years in the public sector.

Author:  Veronica Sheen,  Monash University.
Originally published 29 July, 2014 on The Conversation

August 10, 2014

The Week In Pictures


Image (Potato Eaters): flickr
Captions by the blogger