CHRIS UHLMANN: As the Abbott Government seeks to dramatically
expand Work for the Dole, AM can reveal there's been a 45 per cent spike in the
number of older Australians on unemployment benefits since 2010.
The Government figures have been given to Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who says it's not just the effect of an ageing population.
She says there's now just over 200,000 Australians over 50 on the dole and the proposed changes are too simplistic to help them back into work.
From Canberra, Naomi Woodley reports.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says the Government's provided the figures in answer to questions posed during estimates hearings.
RACHEL SIEWERT: And there's now more than 200,000 Australians aged over 50 on Newstart and we have had an increase from last year of 24,000, which is an increase since 2010 of 45 per cent.
Now, I would suggest that that's not just population increasing as our population ages, that there are some employment barriers there that older workers are facing and that they are not being able to re-engage with employment.
NAOMI WOODLEY: She says the Government's plan to make those job seekers do 15 hours of an approved activity each week is ill-conceived and won't help them return to work.
RACHEL SIEWERT: A "keep busy" activity I don't think is what they need. I couldn't tell you how many reports I've had from older workers who when they go to their job service provider are told "no", then, you know, are refused access to training money and to the programs that they want to retrain, because service providers have been more focused on their younger people that they think they can get into the workforce more easily.
NAOMI WOODLEY: As reported on AM yesterday, the Government's expanding the number of wage subsidies available to encourage employers to take on long-term unemployed.
New details from the Government show just over $640 million of its $5 billion employment services program is set aside for such incentive payments, although the vast majority is for mature-age workers.
RACHEL SIEWERT: Wage subsidies can go a certain way, but we need to get very serious about addressing age discrimination and provide significant training and re-skilling.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The Employment Minister, Eric Abetz, says job seekers shouldn't be choosy about finding work and asking people to make 40 applications per month isn't too many.
ERIC ABETZ: Where there are jobs available, you should seek that employment, even if it is not necessarily the employment of first choice.
NAOMI WOODLEY: But professor Peter Whiteford from the Australian National University says that's not necessarily the best approach for the broader economy.
PETER WHITEFORD: The reasons for having income support is that it actually improves labour market efficiency. It means that people have the time to look for jobs that are suited to them and they'll be more productive when they get those jobs.
NAOMI WOODLEY: He studied welfare policies for the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and is now a professor of social policy.
PETER WHITEFORD: In Australia, the short-term unemployed, we have the lowest level of benefits to wages of any OECD country, so the incentives to get a job in the first six-12 months are incredibly strong, because we pay people less than ? as a proportion to wages ? than anywhere else.
NAOMI WOODLEY: That's a view echoed by welfare groups, but they aren't the only ones with concerns. The Business Council of Australia also says the Government should let people focus on applying for the jobs they have the best chance of winning and more work is needed to make sure the new system places people in jobs for the long term.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Naomi Woodley reporting.