Australian Welfare System

.. paid work. In our view it is reasonable to require people with capacity who are work-ready, are available for at least part-time work and have access to job opportunities to seek work that is suitable, having regard to their personal circumstances. We believe it is critical that a broader mutual obligations framework recognises, supports and validates voluntary work and caring, without prescribing any particular form of social participation. Objectives Overall, our goal is to minimise social and economic exclusion.

Australias success in doing this will be measured by the following three key outcomes: 1 A significant reduction in the incidence of jobless families and jobless households. 2 A significant reduction in the proportion of the working age population that needs to rely heavily on income support. 3 Stronger communities that generate more opportunities for social and economic participation. Some of the factors that will be important in helping Australia achieve these outcomes fall outside our terms of reference. These include policies designed to support economic and employment growth and to avoid recessions. Additional responsibilities for the whole community One of the important principles that underpin our approach to welfare reform is that there are social obligations that apply to everyone.

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Alongside a growing emphasis on individual choice, we must also recognise the importance of obligations and responsibilities. Social obligations extend beyond individuals to corporate entities such as business enterprises and trade unions. Businesses, for example, have obligations to their customers, their employees, and the community at large, as well as to their shareholders. Meeting social obligations should not require purely altruistic behaviour or coercion from government and the regulatory framework. Social obligations, in general, confer substantial benefits on individuals and corporate entities. For example, enterprises benefit through employee morale, customer satisfaction and community respect, and a healthy social environment in which to operate.

The Reference Group has used the social obligations framework to develop a wide concept of mutual obligations. Obligations are reciprocal and they extend across the whole community, not just between government (on behalf of the community) and the individual in receipt of income support. The Reference Group believes that there are clear obligations on other parties individuals, businesses and communities. These obligations need to be reflected in the design of the new system (see Part 2, Sections D & E). Business has an obligation to work with government, communities and individuals to generate more opportunities for economic participation. All these groups will need to be more active in identifying and developing opportunities for social participation. We are pleased to note the evidence that business organisations recognise the need for enterprises to take on social obligations (Centre for Corporate Affairs in association with the Business Council of Australia, 2000).

One important method of meeting obligations to those in need is through social partnerships between business, government and community organisations. An advantage of social partnerships is that the providers of the associated training, counselling and work opportunities are in direct contact with those in need. For this reason, social partnerships, as well as mutual obligations, is one of the five features of the Participation Support System. Both of these features of the proposed system are underpinned by the concept of social obligations. Mutual Obligations Our main reason for supporting a broad application of the mutual obligations concept is the long-term benefits for individuals, families and the wider community. The prospect of entrenched social exclusion faces only a small percentage of those who come into contact with the social support system.

Most people will re-enter the paid workforce at an appropriate time through their own efforts or with minimal help. The stark reality is that those who most need assistance are often those who have few opportunities to participate and are often the least motivated to pursue them. For this reason, the new system must engage people more actively, and to be successful that engagement must be reciprocal. Consequently, the Reference Group believes that some form of requirement is necessary (see Part 2, Section D). In considering opportunities for economic and social participation, the Reference Group is mindful that some people in our community face structural or systemic barriers to participation, including discrimination and problems with access to appropriate services and support. Examples include: Indigenous people who have the highest rates of joblessness and economic disadvantage in Australia.

People with disabilities who can face physical access problems to services and the workplace, as well as attitudinal barriers. People of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds can often face language barriers as well as differences in what is considered culturally appropriate. Mature age people may sometimes be regarded as ready for retirement when they would rather remain economically active into their sixties or beyond. Parents and carers need employers who recognise that they may face some limitations on their availability for work and provide family friendly employment conditions. While the Reference Group believes that our vision of a participation support system is sufficiently robust to cater to the holistic needs of individuals, we also recognise that some complementary strategies will be required to address particular structural or systemic issues. Core issues A participation support system along the lines we propose will build on the many worthwhile initiatives and pilot studies undertaken over recent years by government, business and communities. Nevertheless, full implementation will involve fundamental changes that give rise to many important issues.

In this report, the Reference Group deals with three central questions: How should the current social support system be reformed to make it more effective in encouraging participation? Sections A, B & C in Part 2 of this document covering service delivery, income support, and incentives and financial assistance deal substantially with this issue. What are the obligations of government, business, community and individuals? Section D of Part 2 covering mutual obligations deals with this issue. How can more opportunities for economic and social participation be created for people receiving income support, especially those living in disadvantaged regions, beyond those factors that are largely outside our terms of reference such as the rate of economic growth? Sections D & E of Part 2, covering mutual obligations and social partnerships, deal with this issue. Five features of Participation Support The Interim Report there outlined five features of our proposed reforms. We remain convinced of the importance of all five.

Each one of these is integral to our vision of a Participation Support System and they are mutually reinforcing. For our vision to be realised there will need to be progress in each of these areas. Individualised service delivery. Income support and related services will activate, enhance and support social and economic participation, consistent with individual capacities and circumstances. Service delivery will focus on meeting the needs of individuals and on helping them to identify and achieve participation goals.

This will include greater emphasis on prevention and early intervention to improve peoples capacity for self-reliance over the course of their lives (discussed in Part 2, Section A). A simpler income support structure that is more responsive to individual needs, circumstances and aspirations. We envision a dynamic and holistic system that will recognise and respond to peoples changing circumstances over their life cycle and within their own family and community context (discussed in Part 2, Section B). Incentives and financial assistance to encourage and enable participation. Social support structures will ensure a fair return from paid work, while maintaining fair relativities between people in different circumstances, and take account of the additional costs of participation (discussed in Part 2, Section C).

Mutual obligations underpinned by the concept of social obligations. Governments, businesses, communities and individuals all have roles. Governments will have a responsibility to continue to invest significant.