David Clapson was actively searching for work when he died alone at the age of 59, in a flat in Stevenage, UK on the 20th July 2013. The fact he was actively searching for work was acknowledged because there was a pile of recently printed CVs next to his body. He had told his sister a few days before that he was waiting to hear back from a well-known supermarket chain about an application he had made. However, the Jobcentre officials believed he wasn’t searching hard enough, and early in July 2013 they had sanctioned him; cutting off his benefit payments as a punishment for missing two appointments.
David Clapson who had diabetes died from an acute lack of insulin. His electricity had been cut off, and so the fridge where he kept his insulin was not working. There was no food in the flat, he had 5p credit on his pay-as-you-go mobile phone, and he had the equivalent of $5.80 in his bank account. The autopsy found his stomach was empty (details taken from the Guardian Weekly 08.08.14).
David Clapson’s death has been heavily scrutinised and commented upon from all sorts of quarters in the UK. There are many who are now very anxious and concerned about the Government’s increasingly punitive sanctions on those the Government determine as not complying with the conditions for job searching which are part of the agreement when they sign up for benefits. These conditions have been strengthened and become more punitive and rigorous over the last few years, to the point of becoming vindictive punishment. The numbers of vulnerable people on whom these sanctions are being applied is rising. Such sanctions leave claimants with zero income like David Clapson.
Surveys and research show such sanctions do little or nothing to change the behaviour of those looking for work; and also show a complete lack of understanding about how people live in poverty by those who are wealthy, and currently employed as our politicians and making these policy decisions.
The Australian Government is heading down the same pathway. The recent commentary requiring a minimum of 40 job applications per month to be made by an unemployed person is unworkable when there aren’t enough jobs being advertised to go round. It is even more challenging when people can’t afford the costly university education proffered by the government or the rising TAFE costs to retrain for other jobs, combined with very poor public transport and spiralling fuel costs for those who can’t afford cars and for many women, there are unsustainable childcare costs. Our unemployed are also required to move to where there are jobs with little or no resources for rental bonds, bills and set up costs. Our Australian culture shows a concerning willingness through the strategic policy directions being chosen by our leaders to visit retribution on those who fail to be successful.
The latest correspondence from the Employment Department’s deputy secretary Jennifer Taylor to Job Providers, outlines how the tough new unemployment rules for job seekers will work, including the possibility that those who miss an appointment may not have their payments backdated when they start attending appointments again. This now points to a new low for Australia. The rules will strip Centrelink of the power to make decisions and will give job agencies apparently unprecedented powers.
Having a ‘reasonable’ reason for not attending an interview will now be changed to requiring an ‘extreme’ reason. These reasonable reasons, such as being subject to an assault the week before, or suffering from an ongoing mental health illness, are no longer sufficient.
Young people up to the age of 30 who aren’t studying or in work will be taken off the unemployment benefit for up to six months, presumably having to go and live with parents, if the parents can afford to support them. Providers will now be expected in the new policy arrangements to make the determinations on the reasons given by job seekers over whether they can keep their benefits if they slip up, fundamentally changing the relationship with them. This has a significant impact on those Providers that operate from a mission and non-profit services perspective.
Our unemployed live on $36 per day and I challenge anyone to survive and manage to be professional and focussed in such circumstances and live without ‘extreme reasons’. How can our policy makers and politicians sit in such cruel judgement on our most vulnerable citizens?
Perhaps instead, as the National Welfare Rights Network suggests in their submission to the McClure Review, the Government should rather offer a ‘jobs guarantee’ for every job seeker out of work for two years. Let’s ask the politicians to be make a positive contribution to the circumstances that affect so many of our unemployed people in Australia rather than punishing them for daring to remind our politicians that they haven’t yet succeeded in our lucky country.