OVER the past decade, successive federal governments have made an art form of rearranging the classifications of welfare recipients to meet various goals, social, economic or purely statistical.
For a long time, the fashion was to reclassify as many unemployed people as possible onto different allowances and pensions in order to make jobless figures more acceptable.
Now it seems the tide may be turning as the Gillard government scrambles desperately for budget savings in a bid to minimise its likely deficit.
The government’s decision to discontinue paying parenting allowance to single parents once their youngest child turns eight has upset many of those likely to be affected. Those people will be transferred onto the much smaller dole – the so-called ‘‘Newstart’’ allowance – saving the government about $728million over four years.
This was always going to be a hard sell for the government, for a variety of reasons. Newstart is a notoriously stingy allowance, and keeping young mouths fed on $35 a day is an enormous challenge for those who are obliged to try.
The budget savings aren’t large, and many will wonder if they are worth the trouble the policy risks causing to many people, particularly the ‘‘working poor’’ who stand to suffer disproportionately.
It isn’t clear what sectors of the economy, if any, will provide work for the estimated 84,000 people the government insists it wants to move into employment. Indeed, reduced tax receipts resulting from slumping economic activity are the reason the budget is in trouble.
All of this would have made the policy hard enough to sell, without the appalling error of judgement by families minister Jenny Macklin, who told reporters she could live on the dole but then released a transcript of the interview that omitted her rash assertion.
The omission led to accusations that the minister had thought better of her comment and was trying to bury it from view rather than attempt to defend it, along with the new cost-cutting policy.
It’s an extraordinary blunder, putting the government into a painful wedge without the slightest help from the opposition.
Indeed, the Coalition – well accustomed to accusations of discrimination against single mothers and the unemployed – must be relishing Labor’s discomfort.
In its attempts to defend itself the government has been able to do no better than to bluster, and remark how tragic it is for children to grow up in jobless households.
More tragic, apparently, than to subsist in impoverished ones.