The Centrelink letters – a clear breach of human rights

Readers who have now seen the latest Ken Loach movie – I, Daniel Blake – will know the frustration that it depicts when a disadvantaged citizen is confronted with the reality of having to deal with a national welfare agency. Many readers, presumably, have first hand experience of the labyrinthic procedures, rude staff, endless waiting on telephone lines, threatening letters and the rest of the wall that neo-liberal governments have erected to discourage access and/or push people of welfare benefits. While this access and receipt became a right of citizenship in the social democracies that emerged after the Second World War, the neo-liberal era has degraded those rights in favour of a bean-counter interpretation of the world – welfare payments are dollars that can always be saved to balance fiscal accounts and every opportunity should be taken to do so. Australia is way ahead of the game in terms of using government policies and processes to punish and isolate our most disadvantaged citizens so the Government can reduce its welfare spending a few million. We now allow our Government to implement the work of sociopaths and threaten poor citizens with imprisonment on the basis of half-cocked ‘automatic computer-matching’ algorithms that are allegedly tracking welfare fraud. The evidence suggests these processes are massively buggy and deliver wrong outcomes in almost all the cases of fraud they claim to detect. However, that hasn’t stopped the government from sending out tens of thousands of letters to the most disadvantaged among us accusing these people of receiving thousands of dollars in illegitimate welfare payments and threatening criminal prosecution if these alleged overpayments (now debts) are not paid back. Mostly, it seems, the debts are illusory – mistakes by the ingenious (not!) algorithm that was introduced to replace people sacked by the austerity push – sorry, by the Government’s “efficiency dividend” policy. Some people should be prosecuted for breaching human rights in this latest scandal!

I wrote about the movie in this blog – I, Daniel Blake – essential viewing.

As a followup I wrote this blog – Australia – where victims become criminals.

Today, I want to write about the latest scandal to beset the government’s privatised and outsourced welfare services system – the Centrelink debt disaster, which just leaves the mind in a boggled state – given its lunacy and … cruelty.

The Australian government effectively engages in the torture of its own citizens and cannot even do it competently! That is how bad things have become here.

The Australian government agency – Centrelink – is part of the Commonwealth Department of Human Services and “delivers a range of government payments and services for retirees, the unemployed, families, carers, parents, people with disabilities, Indigenous Australians, and people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds …”

It was created in 1997 as a result of the Commonwealth Services Delivery Agency Act 1997.

The provision of federal social security in Australia dates back to 1908 (7 years after Federation came into force) when the federal government introduced an old-age pension (although three colonial (pre-federation) states had already introduced such a pension).

Over time, the net of social security expanded as did the complexity of the system.

When the Australian government privatised employment and labour market services and scrapped the Commonwealth Employment Service in the late 1990s, it created a new industry – Unemployment Management – which is almost totally unproductive and absorbs massive financial resources.

This together with a range of other ‘case’ management type function (disability etc) were entrusted to a proliferation of private contractors, many of which are outright scammers and most totally ineffective, given that there has never been a time since when there have been enough jobs to match the demand for them by unemployed workers.

The stated purpose of these outsourced service delivery organisations is to support the unemployed and other disadvantaged groups to gain skills and employment, but what the overall job constraint (shortage) means, is that, at best, they just shuffle the jobless queue.

The evidence is that they shuffle in such way that they maximise the advantages to their own organisation rather than to the avantage of their so-called “customers” or “clients” aka the welfare recipient. There is also evidence of outright fraud, which typically gets swept under the carpet by the Government to avoid it revealing what an outright disaster its system is.

The following graph shows the overall Unemployment-Vacancies (UV) ratio in Australia for the period May 1979 to September 2016 – which includes the entire period that these privatised job services have been operating.

You can see the impacts of the two major recessions in this period (1982 and 1991). The UV ratio is now of 4.04 – that is, around 4 unemployed persons per unfilled job – and it has dropped a little after hovering around 5 for some time.

After the GFC hit and the federal government introduced its large fiscal stimulus, the UV ratio fell to 3.09 (February-quarter 2011).

But it then rose back to a new peak of 5.2 (August 2014) after the Australian government went into austerity mode in its obsessive (failed) pursuit of a fiscal surplus. While that pursuit was in vain it undermined aggregate spending and the labour market has weakened considerably ever since.

Both sides of the hump that peak in the August-2009 quarter tell you are story about the effectiveness of fiscal interventions.

Before the stimulus package was introduced, the Australian labour market was heading into crisis as the UV rose and the economy headed into recession.

After the 2009 peak, the fiscal stimulus started to support the economic recovery and the UV ratio fell.

After that point, with no structural changes obvious, it is hard to argue that the rising ratio was the result of anything other than a declining aggregate spending culminating in the negative real GDP growth result in the most recent quarter.

The Australian labour market has been constrained by a lack of job creation the entire time we have been enduring this cruel, privatised system of job services delivery.

The current UV ratio is low relative to the peak of May 1992 when the ratio was 29, but it remains the case that there are many more people unemployed competing for scarce jobs than there were before the crisis started to impact.

But the UV ratio actually understates the degree of slack in the labour market.

Underemployment is now much higher than in 1982 (when it was largely non-existent) and 1991 (when it started to rise to current levels) and so the unemployed now have to compete for jobs with new entrants, other unemployed and the 1.1 million underemployed (8.8 per cent of the labour force).

Further, labour force participation is well below the most recent peak, which means that there are more than 120,000 extra workers who might reasonably be considered hidden unemployed and would take a job immediately if there was one available.

australia_uv_ratio_1979_september_2016

The Australian government has been playing a charade with us since it created this monstrosity. It pretends they have created a ‘market’ where customers go an buy things.

In the mainstream economics textbook, that these bastard politicians pretend to live by, the consumer is sovereign and determines the allocation of resources to final products such that everyone maximises their utility (satisfaction)

So they stopped calling the unemployed – jobless – and instead decided they were ‘customers’ or ‘clients’ who were ‘buying’ services from the outsourced suppliers (although the government was paying the bill!). A total sham.

Meanwhile, the government began doing everything it could to discourage access and make it harder for people to claim and/or stay on benefits.

I wrote about these issues in this blog – Job Services Australia – ineffective and rife with corruption – scrap it!

There is an interesting article by John Hewson, the former leader of the Australian Federal Liberal party (which along with the National Party form the conservative side of politics here) in today’s press (January 5, 2016) – Beware the ‘new conservatives’ motivated by ambition and ego.

He can hardly be described as a progressive force in politics and is a conservative economist (former academic). But even he is reviled by the way the conservative political forces in Australia are operating these days.

In his commentary on the trends within the conservative side of Australian politics (with overtones for other nations) he eschews the move to “new conservatism” which promotes “anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-Muslim, anti-climate elements … as fundamental elements”.

He says:

… conservative attitudes to economic management vary. Some argue the urgency of budget repair, but simply imagine this can be achieved by attacking dole bludgers, welfare fraud, and foreign aid, while promising tax cuts and protecting areas such as defence and their particular “pork”.

He also talks about the National Party (the minor coalition partner representing the rural lobby) as being “less than pure than conservatives on key economic issues” given they demand protection from global competition and “various subsidies and support for farmers and miners”.

Tellingly, he writes:

Similarly, on welfare – the Nats are hard on the disadvantaged, unless they are farmers facing drought, flood and fire.

Of course, when a farmer loses all income because of drought and is rendered effectively ‘jobless’, the same treatment is not meted out to them.

I documented this hypocrisy in this blog – The indecent inconsistency of the neo-liberals.

As the neo-liberal infestation spread and became core culture within the federal government (all sides of politics unfortunately) and its bureaucracy, new legislation was passed (for example, the Welfare to Work changes in July 2006) which shoehorned single parents with school-age children and people on disabilities back into the unemployment benefits system (effectively).

We had absurd statements from federal politicians that 15-year old girls were deliberately getting pregnant to avoid work and live on the pension – despite the pension being below the poverty line.

These changes reduced entitlements (maximum rates), made the means test tighter and increased the ‘work test’ obligations, despite it being obvious that there haven’t been enough jobs.

While during the full employment era from 1945 to around the mid-1970s, the federal bureaucracy largely functioned as a professional organisation to provide first-class services to citizens as their rights of citizenship, it has morphed over the last 30 years into a neo-liberal contract management agency overseeing outsourced service delivery.

I have had close contacts in the various Federal departments over the years and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the more social democratic spirits have been purged (in Employment, Human Services, etc) in favour of a sociopathic tendency where beans are more important than people.

As the former Liberal Party leader wrote today:

… how much of this “new conservatism” is simply motivated by ambition and ego, as the main proponents believe in (and start to wallow in) their own media.

The same can be said about the new public service managers who design policies that are, in my view, violations of acceptable human rights.

We have been here before

Last year, the Australian National Audit Office released the results of its investigation into the “effectiveness and efficiency of the Department of Human Services’ management of Smart Centres’ Centrelink telephone services”.

This is one dimension of the interface between Centrelink and the disadvantage income support recipients it manages and dispenses to.

The report – Management of Smart Centres’ Centrelink Telephone Services (published May 19, 2015) is scathing.

Remember in I, Daniel Blake how the employment agency officer simply told Daniel that all the relevant forms and information “was just on the Internet” without any sensitivity to whether Daniel knew anything about the Internet, which a lot of older welfare recipients do not.

The same applies in Australia. Many income support recipients who have to deal with Centrelink rely on telephone contact. The Audit Office considered:

Telephone services … are an integral part of the Australian Government’s delivery arrangements for welfare services and income support provided through the Centrelink program …

In 2013–14, the department handled 43.1 million telephone calls for Centrelink services—an average of around 800 000 calls per week—at a cost of some $338 million.

So it is no small matter if the telephone service doesn’t operate properly.

The results of the Audit show that the system fails badly:

1. “in 2013–14, just under one third of customers (nearly 14 million calls) who were able to enter the Centrelink telephone network hung up before the reason for their call was resolved. Around 6 million of these calls were estimated to be abandoned in the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, often when callers were advised by an IVR message of the estimated wait times to talk to a Service Officer (SO)”.

2. “more than half of the calls that were abandoned occurred after the customer had invested time waiting to speak to a SO. In 2013–14, 7.8 million calls were in this category and the average time that customers spent waiting before they abandoned the call was 9 minutes and 42 seconds.”

3. “These abandoned calls represent a lost investment of time and effort by the customer … in 2013–14, the time lost by customers prior to abandoning their calls, after going through the IVR system, cumulatively totalled some 143 person-years.”

4. “the more detailed results for Centrelink telephone services show an increase in average speed of answer from well under 16 minutes in 2012–13 to over 16 minutes in 2013–14”.

5. “Centrelink customers also continue to experience high levels of call blocking and call abandonment, which can further impact on the customer experience.” That is, the system just hangs up on them!

6. The cuts to staffing levels (in the name of “efficiency”) have created this nightmare. Austerity strikes again.

Conclusion: the service delivery standards are dreadful yet the government continually diverts attention from the mess they have created by focusing heavily in the public domain on alleged welfare fraud!

Which brings me to the latest Centrelink scandal – the debt letters before Xmas.

The Centrelink Debt Scandal

While sociopaths surely designed this system, the austerity push has driven a lot of human activity towards automatic processes which, seemingly, just use simplistic computer scripts that result in ridiculous interactions with the income support recipients.

In the latest disaster, considerable harm has been caused and yet the government and its bureaucracy are claiming nothing is awry.

Backtrack to September 30, 2010 when another Australian National Audit Office performance report (Audit Report No.10) – Centrelink Fraud Investigations – was released.

The Audit Office investigated the incidence of fraudulent access to Centrelink payments. It notes that:

In 2008–09, Centrelink delivered social welfare payments totalling $87 billion to 7 million customers, many of whom are the most vulnerable in our society and heavily dependent on Centrelink payments.

Centrelink has a “Fraud Control Plan” which details how it maintains the integrity of the payments schemes it is responsible for.

The detail is not important here.

Essentially, it conducts fraud investigations and provide evidence briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (the CDPP), who then decides whether the proceed with prosecution or not.

The data for 2008-09 tells us that:

1. There were “26,084 fraud investigations … which led to $113.4 million in customer debts”.

2. “5082 referrals were made to the CDPP for consideration of prosecution action in relation to fraud, resulting in 2973 convictions (about 11 per cent of the total investigations reported by Centrelink).

11 per cent seems a lot.

But think about it in the scale of the operation. It recovered $113.4 million out of $87 billion in payments – do the calculation – that is 0.13 per cent.

It successfully prosecuted 2973 persons out of 7 million – do the calculation – that is 0.04 per cent of the recipients (and I don’t know whether there was any multiple convictions which would reduce the minuscule percentage even further.

The Australian Council of Social Services reported that (Source):

Last year just 0.018% of those receiving payments were investigated for fraud, while 996 cases were referred to prosecutors and just 29 cases resulted in indictable charges

In other words, as the hysteria among the conservatives against welfare support was reaching fever pitch, the numbers detected were falling in levels and proportions.

While the Government ministers are continually trying to make out that fraud is a massive problem, the evidence contradicts that spin.

It is also questionable whether the fraud control procedures actually engaged in by Centrelink in their quest for “quantitative performance targets” were even legal.

The Audit Office concluded that:

1. “most of these fraud investigations did not comply with the Australian Government’s regulated framework for fraud investigations and Centrelink’s internal policies and procedures.”

2. “these results reflect Centrelink’s non‐compliance with the requirements of the AGIS and its internal policies and procedures at key points throughout the investigation process, contributing to: deficiencies in case selection and prioritisation practices; and shortcomings in managerial oversight of investigation planning and the necessary deliberation of critical decisions and investigation outcomes.”

3. “Centrelink advised that its approach to targeting customers most at risk of committing serious fraud … focused on the savings to be achieved, mostly through the recovery of customer debts and include quantitative targets for fraud investigations and prosecution referrals.”

4. “It focused fraud investigations on the less complex cases (in order to achieve the targets), at the expense of progressing the more complex, serious fraud investigations.” So the big corporate players who have job services contracts which have defrauded the system by overstating success rates etc get away clean and the schizoid, impoverished person with a home gets pillaried for making a mistake.

5. The Audit Office talked about how Centrelink was moving towards new “business systems” which used computer intelligence etc (“enhanced with the introduction of an intelligence capability”) to detect and pursue fraud – as if that was a “development”.

Which brings us to the current day.

The Federal Minister for Human Services appeared on National TV on December 5, 2016 issuing threats to our most disadvantaged citizens:

We’ll find you, we’ll track you down and you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison.

Centrelink send out thousands of letters to support this repression during 2016 with Australian Federal Police included in the letter head – repeating the threat that if people are caught receiving income support when they do not qualify then they would incur “a criminal record or a prison sentence”.

The sociopath that wrote the text clearly didn’t realise that there was no OR in this – a person who goes to prison has to have a criminal conviction! But I digress.

Things got worse as we reached the end of 2016.

Australia readers will be familiar with the headlines in the last few days documenting the Centrelink Debt disaster.

For example, Peter Martin has a good summary of the issue in yesterday’s Fairfax press (January 4, 2016) – Centrelink’s robo-debacle is a litany of inhuman errors.

Essentially, Centrelink facing massive staff shortages due to the ‘efficiency dividend’ push by the Federal Government (started by the Labor Party, no less) and have implemented “automated data-matching” algorithms to match tax file records administered by the Australian Tax Office with its own income payment records.

Anyway who knows anything about these type of matching systems realises they are “crude” and liable to error. In some cases, that propensity to error might not matter much but when it is a government dealing with its most disadvantaged citizens, the costs of even minor errors can be dramatic and include elevated mental health disorders, family breakdown and increased suicide rates.

The downside risk is enormous.

We learned that the detected breaches under this new system are “currently occurring at a rate of about 20,000 cases a week, compared with 20,000 a year previously” (Source).

As the holiday season approached, and just before Xmas, Peter Martin writes that:

… tens of thousands of Australians received notes embossed with the Centrelink logo telling them the income their employer had reported to the Tax Office was different to the income they had reported to Centrelink. Unless they explained why within 14 to 21 days, they would have an assessment made against them and be hit by a 10 per cent recovery fee.

As Peter Martin notes, some of the claims go back 6 years “way beyond the six months the Centrelink website asks people to keep pay slips” (for any income they might have earned).

In Australia, you are innocent until proven guilty (the British system of justice).

But these letters reversed “the usual onus of proof, they were guilty and sentenced until later proven innocent”.

The debt letters mostly made spurious claims with an internal Centrelink source said that “of the hundreds of cases they had reviewed, only about 20 (at a “generous estimate”) turned out to be genuine debts.

That is documented in the UK Guardian article (December 23, 2016) – Centrelink officer says only a fraction of debts in welfare crackdown are genuine .

But the threats of imprisonment and additional fines, promoted vigorously by the relevant Government Minister, have led many people to pay the demanded debt amount without seeking due process.

The anonymous Centrelink officer also said that the ‘automated data-matching system’ was only able to access limited information and the missing information biased the conclusion that there was fraud and a debt was owing, when in fact the opposite was the case.

The onus has been pushed on the poor and sick to prove otherwise, a task that is in many cases impossible.

For example, it “is particularly difficult” to access past income/work histories “where past employers have gone into liquidation or no longer exist”.

Income support recipients were told they had to resolve their debts via an on-line portal, but despite the Department’s claims to the contrary, the insider told the press that the system often failed, not in the least by just prohibiting access.

Those receiving sickness benefits were particularly targetted. So imagine a person who is sick for a month earning nothing but receives income support during that period. The rest of the year that person earns an income.

The ‘automated data-matching system’ apparently worked out an estimate of that person’s “fortnightly income by dividing annual income by 26”. If the average was above the allowable amount, even if during the period of income support the person earned zero, the algorithm marked them as fraudsters.

Ridiculous you might say. The work of sociopaths intent on quantitative targets and bereft of any empathy for the human dimension of their work.

Peter Martin documents other problems with the system.

Conclusion

The whole exercise reeks of the sort of cruel disdain for people that drives austerity.

These interactions with people are designed to discourage access to what is a right of citizenship. But also, as Peter Martin surmises (and I agree) the letters demonstrate that Centrelink just “didn’t know what they were doing”.

Even the Minister apparently didn’t know about the “10 per cent recovery fee” that was demanded in the letters.

The final observation is that the Minister for Human Services, the Treasurer and the Finance Minister – all part of the phalanx driving austerity and preaching rectitude are all ‘devout’ Christians.

They front a corps of evangelical types in the Liberal and National parties, many of whom are driving the ‘new conservatism’ noted above. The ‘holier than thou’ crew!

The Treasurer, an evangelical Christian who is part of a Pentecostal church in Sydney and who is driving these cutbacks etc, told the Parliament of Australia in his maiden speech that:

So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24: I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.”

The Lord might have declared a love of “kindness, justice and righteousness on earth” but Morrison and his Ministerial mates certainly only demonstrate hypocrisy of the tallest order.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2017 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

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    24 Responses to The Centrelink letters – a clear breach of human rights

    1. slorter says:

      At bottom, neoconservatives believe in a social hierarchy of “haves” and “have nots”. They have taken this corrosive social vision and dressed it up with a “respectable” sounding ideology which all boils down to the cheap labour they depend on to make their fortunes.
      The larger the labour supply, the cheaper it is. The more desperately you need a job, the cheaper you’ll work, and the more power those “corporate lords” have over you. These cheap-labour conservatives have no problem at all opening the public purse for corporate interests. it’s “social spending” on people who actually need assistance that they just “can’t tolerate”. And now you know why. Destitute people work cheaper!
      The neoconservative by its very nature is anti worker and anti society. The basic characteristics of this toxic ideology are smashing unions, weakening government protection for its citizens, selling off all state assets to corporate interests, cutting taxation for the very wealthy, and eroding social services such as healthcare, education and pensions.

    2. Flynn says:

      It was always going to reach this point, Bill. Kicking single mothers onto Newstart, efficiency dividends, Job Active, work-for-the-dole…the list is endless. Private companies have made a windfall from contracts to deliver borderline useless jobseeker ‘services’ and all the IT systems produced to deliver something to bash someone around the ear with. This has gotten progressively worse under both Labor and Liberal governments.

      Welfare benefits are a more humane and cheaper measure than copping the social, health, etc. problems associated with desperate people trying to survive any way possible. Newstart, including rental assistance, is the princely sum of $300 a week vs nearly $300 a DAY to house someone in prison. If the conservative metric of success is budget savings then they’re way, way off the mark.

    3. Neil Wilson says:

      The UBI crowd, having realised that their dream has been tainted with the anti-work label, are now pushing the elimination of this contract management means tested mess as a primary benefit.

      Which probably means we should do the same with the Job Guarantee.

      All of this has come about due to the biggest lie of them all: “Only the private sector can create jobs”.

      The task of the private sector is to eliminate jobs via the substitution of capital for labour. If it is creating jobs, then it is no longer serving the economy properly.

    4. Postkey says:

      Why ‘the staff are ‘rude’?

      ‘I GOT my first “proper” job working in Britain’s benefit industry for the job centre. In a giant call-centre building, where benefits were “processed”, I was barely in the door before they told me I was a “keyholder of the public purse” and that every time I gave someone a “handout” I was “throwing away my own money as a taxpayer.” It was drilled into us, from day one.
      When I logged on to the computer every morning, an internal web page for DWP staff would pop up. It ran stories giving glowing reviews to the worst of poverty-shaming television, from Saints versus Scroungers to Benefit Street. It promoted featured articles that adopted all the standard tabloid vulgarisms: “skivers and strivers”, “junkies”, “layabouts”. From on high, the bosses imposed an “us and them” attitude and taught us to criminalise the communities we were meant to serve. It was like Orwell’s 1984, with the telescreens and the Thought Police, except here Big Brother was simply Iain Duncan Smith: a bigoted, hateful moron with a serious case of contempt for the vulnerable.
      Using software and outsourcing, they found ever more subtle ways to dehumanise people and to separate benefit staff from our actions. Just as many American soldiers no longer see violence up close, and instead direct drone bombs from above the clouds like a computer game, so technology allowed us to hit a computer key and deprive a human being of the money they need for food and bills. ‘

    5. Rob Holmes says:

      As I am 70 and my wife 66 We are in the process of applying for an age pension. This sort of stuff going on at the moment is making me think again about applying as I am nervous about getting caught up in some spurious data-linking action, regardless that I have provided all our earning info. As I do part-time consulting, I could well land up as others have, where a one-off payment is multiplied out over a year, then to receive demands for total refund of pension money received. We are now nervous to apply for what should be ours as a right.

    6. John Doyle says:

      One needs to go for anger management therapy after all this iniquity is revealed! Worse the totality of the political class is indoctrinated with the same toxins as they all joined with the rentier parasites infesting the top end of society. So much for being our representatives!
      It’s only going to change when it gets so bad we all rise up and demand change. But that won’t happen until the economy crashes first. It’s not that far off now.

    7. Jason H says:

      The whole thing is a travesty and I hope will end up burning a lot of coalition supporters with its blunt brush approach.

      Looking at it one of the worst parts is that only people who actually worked part of the year are rounded up in the data match so its penalising work! What a joke when that should be encouraged.

      In regards to the phone queues there is absolutely no reason that centrelink can’t implement a call back automated system that only connects successful call backs when answers by a human to greatly streamline the process for everyone involved. It seems pretty obvious though when you deal with centrelink that they are trying to discourage serving customers rather than providing service. I feel sorry for the many good staff who have to deal with the anger and frustration at all levels. I don’t think I could do it.

    8. larry says:

      John, people have been needing and taking advantage of more than anger management counseling. Because these particular people are not psychopaths, they are suffering mental health issues due to having to implement such an inhumane system. Do the psychopathic managers care about the mental health of their own employees? Of course not. As the good psychopaths they are, they care only about themselves. This kind of mental health suffering is becoming endemic, not unlike a pathogen making its way relentlessly through a population.

      Since the referendum in the UK, the Home Office has been discovered to be sending out letters to European UK residents, who may have lived and worked in the UK for more than 30 years, that is effectively a piss off and leave letter. When found out, all they could say was that the wrong letter had been sent to the recipients in question. I have been told that some who wish to acquire permanent residency status may have to build up a document file that could weigh around 2.5 kg. And as Bill mentioned with Centrelink, they are expected to acquire and include information that may no longer exist. Which carries with it the risk that their application could automatically fail. Disgustingly ugly.

    9. Len says:

      Hello Bill,
      This latest Neo-liberal “ploy” appears to me the re-introduction of Slavery. In this instance the slaves are the Australian Governments own people, including the “wanna-be” Capitalists, who keep voting for them time and time again. This LNP government know only one master, the multi nationals and their hangers-on.
      I think that history is repeating itself. How long will it be before the population finally stumbles out of their slumber and demand “Enough is enough”. The abolishion of slavery took decades, admittedly in those days there was no social media, but do we have to have public ‘Slave markets’? Do we have to wait for present unscrupulous employers to be renamed ‘Slave owners’ before the Australian public will come out of it’s stupor.
      Have we Australians become “Slavery” deniers? That should sit well with the other Deniers in our Society.
      This Government is condoning, and actively promoting, State Sponsored extorsion of its citizens.
      Makes Al Capone look as a benevolent Spiv.
      This government ‘knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing”.

    10. Neil Wilson says:

      “I have been told that some who wish to acquire permanent residency status may have to build up a document file that could weigh around 2.5 kg. ”

      On what basis? AFAICS if you’re a worker or an ex-worker you just need a reference from your employer or previous employer, or your self-employment registration at HMRC and if you’ve been here longer than five years then you get a resident certificate. Those are treaty rights.

      There’s the small matter of a £65 charge mind.

      After six years you can use the residence certificate to get British citizenship.

      It doesn’t excuse the Home Office being incompetent, but there are just as many scare stories on the other side.

    11. larry says:

      Unfortunately, Neil, it is not as simple as you are making out. If only it were.

    12. Simon Cohen says:

      The question we need to ask is why has this marginalisation of benefit claimants worked so ‘well’ for the neo-liberal shysters? I’d say it’s:
      1) media saturation with neo-liberal dogma baout ‘tax-payers’ money (which we knoe it isn’t!).
      2) Continuous media targetting of benefit claimants including vile T.V ‘shows’ known as ‘poverty pornography.’
      3) The condescending reference to ‘the hard working family’ which means people on wages so low they can hardly cover mortgage and food who’s anger is chanelled towards the poorest and most vulnerable – a techniqie redolent of the concentration camp where those who thought they had an (illusory) chance of survival were extra cruel to those on lowe rungs.
      4) The deflection of blame from the political class and banking system.

      In the U.K it worked! I didn’t think it would, but it worked and the Tory shysters got in again after manifest persection and in some cases deaths of benefit claimants. Labour were sh** useless in countering the myths and lies and crap-scared of the bog-roll presses opinion of them.

      In the UK , benfit fraud was estimated at 0.7 % yet the Government massively increase by thousands the number of staff investigating fraud while the number of people employed by the Inland Revenue fell.

    13. Simon Cohen says:

      ‘ I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.”

      I suspect that is a reference to himself, such is the self agrandisement of these arse-holes!

      In the UK, Iain Duncan Smith (Nosferatu as he became known actually maintained that the ‘tough love’ was helping people and use bogus statistics to try to show that sanctions and punitive systems were getting peopl into work whilst private agencies had a laugh getting Government money for achieving nothing.

    14. Nigel Hargreaves says:

      Rob Holmes,

      You do not say what country you are in. If the UK you have no worries. I retired on a very small private pension just over 2 years ago and the people at the Pension Service could not have been more helpful and understanding. In the UK the state pension was, until recently, paid from age 60 for women and 65 for men. This has started to change, and both men and women will eventually not receive it until 67. I forget what the timescale is. The state pension is payable as of right and does not depend on current income. It doesn’t matter if you earn a million a week. If, however, like me, you only have a small income, there are additional means-tested benefits, the main one being Pension Credit. Again the people at the Pension Service were really helpful. Okay, I only got £6.95 a week, but that also unlocks other benefits like free spectacles and dental care. i didn’t think I was going to get anything.

      I certainly don’t recognise the I, Daniel Blake scenario in my own experience – even when I was unemployed for a short while.

    15. Simon Cohen says:

      Nigel,

      In 2013-14 when the Government was hell-bent on getting people off benefits to prove that their was employment growth and thhat the ill were scroungers, I had my benefits stopped TWICE which meant , on both occasions I faced potential homelesness and was referred to local charites both times. Luckilly I was able to put up a fight and got the benefits re-instated each time but it was appallingly stressful and you need skills and confidence to fight back once this has happened-many don’t have this. I’ve even read Guardian reports of how target setting (denied by the DWP) led Job Centres to target people who they knew would not be able to defend themselves.

      The Daniel Blake experience is aout there, alright!

    16. Peter McKenzie says:

      In essence, as wealth has surged to the top, neoliberalism, evil enough in itself, is mutating into a neo-feudalism where the privileged few, with ever increasing callousness, call all the shots.

    17. Rob Holmes says:

      Thanks Bill. A really excellent article that should be published on a national paper.

    18. Andreas Bimba says:

      I would like to see the corporate leaders and the wealthy that avoid paying any reasonable level of taxation along with the big accounting firms that enable these activities to face severe sanctions. Massive fines and long prison sentences are necessary for the real pigs that have their snouts in the troughs along with those that engage in deliberate fraud. The system of justice has become two tiered and does not work.

      For the poor and disadvantaged that miss out on their due entitlements, an efficient and courteous system of social compensation must be provided including compensation in cases of error or deliberate mistreatment.

      For the neoliberal politicians and the neoliberal lobbyists, public execution by the masses is justified but in the interests of humanity, all those ghastly private prisons could be emptied of non violent offenders and used to house this most vile of sociopathic sub groups.

    19. Nigel Hargreaves says:

      Simon,

      I fully sympathise with your situation and of course accept that things may well have changed since I was in that situation (20 years ago). I was mainly trying to put Rob Holmes’ mind at rest as if he is claiming a UK pension it does not, in my own experience of only 2 years ago, work the way you describe with pensions. It may, of course, be different in other countries.

      Looking at the time of the post I suspect Rob is in Australia. If the Australian government applies means tests to pensions it is a disgrace.

    20. Jennifer Meyer-Smith says:

      I am in furious agreement with Bill Mitchell.

      Modern day Centrelink and the Welfare system is controlled by sociopaths and neoliberals, who cynically exploit people’s disadvantage to persecute them.

      As I have said over and over again in an array of forums, not only should Newstart be significantly increased but other temporary, additional supplementary income one is fortunate to earn by their toil and ingenuity, should be acceptable without losing Newstart.

      For example, at the moment Newstart is less than $14k per year. If a person earns say $4,500 for a temporary one month period, that makes a ‘grand’ total of $18,500 gross for the year. Divide that by 26 and voila, it works out to approx $711 week fortnight which is approx $50/day as opposed to the straight $35/day on Newstart.

      By earning that wonderful bonus of $4,500 in one meagre period, the Newstart recipient exceeds the ‘allowable’ level of approx $48 per FORTNIGHT from Newstart. What a sick joke!

      Like Bill says, sociopaths are having a malicious joke at anybody caught in the talons of unemployment and impoverishment and who dare to try to escape the trap – if only for a short period of time. Because such people are deemed to be overpaid, they derive a hefty debt, which Centrelink wants repaid. Even payment plans are onerous to poor people on Newstart.

      My solution

      Tell anti-Christ Porter to:
      1) Raise Newstart to a dignified, livable level in comparison to the minimum wage (since Mutual Obligations enforce people to work);
      2) Raise the Allowable Income Levels for Newstart so that Newstart doesn’t get reduced, if temporary other income is earnt

    21. mahaish says:

      sorry hit the enter key accidently

      @jen

      better still,

      a basic income guarantee for everybody of say 20 grand, and incremental brackets on the tax scale to get rid of bracket creep from the first dollar after that, rather than the big gaps we have now.

      and get rid of all entitlements ,allowances, and tax deductions.

      probably could incorporate a jobs guarantee as well

    22. Jennifer Meyer-Smith says:

      mahaish,

      your thoughts have merit in terms of the basic income guarantee for everybody and a job guarantee.

      My post reflects an immediate response to the current system.

      Your system would be much better especially, if incentives are built into it, so that every person on the basic income and job guarantees also has the option to enhance their circumstances by operating their own entrepreneurial enterprises. This would enhance locally grown industries and enhance employment prospects for the community.

    23. FightClubber says:

      Just a minor quibble Bill. As a long term unemployed person I can assure you that I am not a customer of the employment services regime. I am in fact the product.

      I realise that you included commas to indicate scepticism but the problem is very real.

      I believe the system is working on the subscription model of regular payments for supposed services rendered. The bonus payment they are entitled to for successfully placing someone in a job is less than the anticipated long term earnings of poverty management

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