Government changes will create a new underclass of working poor reliant on charities, family and friends to supplement low wages, church-based employment organisations will tell a parliamentary inquiry today.
Instead of creating incentives for people to find work, the biggest changes in the system in decades will force people on welfare to accept jobs with no award conditions or pay rates or face the suspension of their benefits for eight weeks.
"This is an agenda that passes the buck on poverty and inequality," the St Vincent de Paul Society will tell the inquiry.
"It contributes to greater income inequality at a time when there is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that the slide into growing inequality has been arrested. Furthermore, it does nothing to really enable people to participate in work, education or the community. It does not offer dignity. It takes away hope."
Church-based members of the Job Network, including Catholic Welfare Australia, the Salvation Army, UnitingCare and Anglicare Australia, account for about 20 per cent of the employment agencies the Federal Government uses. They represent a higher number of people with disabilities than other employment agencies and are already finding it difficult to find enough suitable jobs.
The organisations have all attacked the proposed welfare changes, saying they are based on a system of fear and will result in people having to rely on charity.
A government committee will hear three days of evidence on the new welfare system before reporting back within a week before Parliament returns for its final fortnight of the year. The new welfare system is scheduled to begin on July 1.
The provisions include:
* New applicants for the disability pension will be tested to see if they are capable of working 15 hours a week.
* If they are, they will have to look for a job or be automatically placed on the lower Newstart (unemployment) payment.
* Sole parents applying for the Parenting Payment (Single) will have to look for work once their youngest child turns six.
* However, they will not be moved to the Newstart payment until the child turns eight.
Church and welfare groups are particularly concerned about the tough new rules for people who do not meet the requirements of their welfare payments and will tell the inquiry they should be abandoned.
A person's payments will be automatically cut off for eight weeks if they do not accept a job, if they do not participate in work-for-the-dole programs or if they leave a job for a reason Centrelink deems unreasonable.
The chief executive officer of Catholic Welfare Australia, Frank Quinlan, said that the proposed new system "makes no sense".
"Suspending all payments to the very poor is like sending a naughty child to their room and leaving them there for three days," he said.
Instead of taking away benefits, more money should be spent on training so people have a better chance of finding a good job and turning the work-for-the-dole program into a vocational training system, the churches argue.
The Salvation Army is also expected to criticise the new system when it gives evidence later in the week. Its national secretary, John Staite, has already said he expects his organisation's resources to be stretched as more people come for help.
However, the Government argues that moving people from welfare into work will increase employment rates and improve the lives of welfare recipients and their families.
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