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I must admit to feeling somewhat flummoxed. It’s never been a secret that government welfare policy is less about helping actual people and more about glossing the numbers.

But when their policy decisions don’t even support economic principles, I’m left sitting here scratching my head.

The coronavirus has thrown a monumental spanner in the works.

Despite articles everywhere declaring it to be “unprecedented,” it’s actually not.

We’ve survived Spanish Flu in the last century and, historically, we’ve made it through The Plague.

With our interconnected world, it was not unfathomable for something like this to happen again. It’s not unprecedented – we were ill prepared.

Not only were we ill prepared, but we also seem ill equipped to manage it.

How else can we explain policies that support the rich and leave the vulnerable scrambling for the coat tails of the CEO clan, to lap at the drops of the mythical trickle down economics we are all informed is an effective way of preserving our financial wellbeing?

You have to have a go, to get a go, right?

I am left wondering why we seem to hate welfare recipients so much as a nation.

Our politicians and news media throw out shock jock headlines and quotes calling people experiencing unemployment “bludgers”, creating the stereotypes of drug addiction, laziness and personal fault and thus cultivating the social division that isolates people suffering the indignity of the dole queue.

Despite actual research debunking these myths, social media shows the success of this cultivation as people degrade those who have been forced to ask for help.

Programs like the Indue cashless debit card beat down the already fragile mental health of those in this position by limiting their agency, publicly declaring their status as a person experiencing hardship, and rendering the relationship between the government and its people as one of parent and child.

The short-term provision of the coronavirus supplement due to be cut this week, perhaps surprisingly, further divided us.

I thought (apparently naively) that an influx of people into the ranks of the unemployed would increase empathy and understanding for the plight, help us all to recognise that unemployment is rarely a choice and the powerlessness of the experience can be as debilitating as it is frustrating.

Alas, it was not to be. Instead, we have somehow managed to create a class society within the welfare structure – those who are new to the program due to the coronavirus and those who were already there and thus “unworthy” of the additional support offered during this pandemic.

The impending loss of the supplement will level this playing field somewhat and the bitter taste of poverty will know no prejudice, with almost a million Australians without even one hour a week of work.

I can only conclude that the disdain collectively aimed at people experiencing unemployment is as a result of the carefully cultivated belief they are in this situation because there is something inherently wrong with them – that they must have done something, failed to do something or perhaps are lacking in the qualities, work ethic or desire to contribute that those in employment clearly bring to the table.

We seem so aghast at the idea that someone could get something for “doing nothing” when “we” have to work for what we get that we fail to recognise living below the poverty threshold, and straddling the line between homelessness and scraping by, is not a lifestyle people tend to choose.

Why do we get so angry at our vulnerable neighbours and yet we restrain ourselves over JobKeeper being used to plump already wealthy CEO pockets? Welfare for the already rich is apparently acceptable.

Having a government who repeatedly trots out the same lines about how the best form of welfare is a job, while making policy decisions regarding reducing the corona-supplement that economists estimate will cost the economy $31 billion over two years – thus damaging the very economy that is required to generate the jobs in the first place – is a crass irony that causes social, cultural, and economic damage to us all.

Giving tax breaks to the rich while freezing the aged pension and cutting JobSeeker back to one of the worst in the OECD helps neither the people nor the economy.

But don’t stress – the government has provided funding that equates to just over $4.50 for each of us for mental health. Spend it wisely!


  – Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat