Mutual Obligation is not a One Way Street!

two one-way signs
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This post was written in February 2014.

We are hearing a lot at present about the cost of providing financial support to people through pensions and benefits such as Newstart and the Disability Support Pension. The Federal Government has asked Patrick McClure to review the payments system and make recommendations for change. This is being introduced by Minister Kevin Andrews who is saying that the welfare system is unsustainable.

The Government is also reintroducing the possibility of Work for the Dole schemes, versions of which were run during the Howard government years. These schemes are presented as a form of mutual obligation – that people who receive financial support from the Government should give something back in return via an organised engagement with the community. The experience in the past with these schemes is mixed – there are stories of great schemes that motivated people and created pathways back to work. There are also many stories of people who felt stigmatised and demoralised through their Work for the Dole experiences.

But let’s remember that mutual obligation is a two way street. As a society we need to anticipate the needs of people who are marginalised and vulnerable. We must care for those who need support – whether that is for a short time or for whole of someone’s life.

The introduction of the NDIS shows that Australia can understand the needs of its’ citizens and come up with a way of meeting them. We have committed to fundamentally change the social contract for people living with a disability.

In the current discussion of mutual obligation and “the end of the age of entitlement” lets not forget the obligation to care for people and meet their reasonable needs.