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Government warns welfare is not a career

Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary for Indigenous Affairs Alan Tudge.
Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary for Indigenous Affairs Alan Tudge. DANIEL MUNOZ

WE'VE all been forewarned as to the potential surprises in store when the Federal Budget is handed down on Tuesday night.

Among the expected changes are tough new "learn or earn" rules governing young people's eligibility for unemployment benefits.

The new rules will mean under-25s will not be eligible for the dole at 22, instead they will remain on the lower-paying Youth Allowance for an additional three years.

School leavers may also be made to wait six months before being eligible to apply for Youth Allowance.

The changes to unemployment and Youth Allowance benefits form part of broader welfare reforms, intended to make living on welfare a less attractive option than working.

Youth unemployment is a growing concern nationwide, and is reaching disturbing levels in remote communities, particularly among indigenous youth.

According to the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary for Indigenous Affairs Alan Tudge only 30% of working age people in remote communities are employed.

Further, only 18% of 17- to 24-year olds were working or studying.

"The government wants to support remote communities to retain their attachment to country,'' Mr Tudge wrote in the Australian.

"But it is difficult, if not impossible, for such communities to be more independent and self-sustaining without more people being employed. Long-term passive welfare is a poison for anyone. It robs people of motivation and capability.

"We have to do everything we can to ensure young people don't enter the welfare system, let alone stay on it for many years. The longer a person is on welfare, the harder it is to get back into the workforce."

Mr Tudge said the government was aware of the need for change, to revise a system that makes it worthwhile to not engage in the workforce.

While that sentiment resonates strongly in indigenous communities, it holds true across the broader community as well.

Welfare should never be a viable career option, it should be a safety net.

The audit commission had recently called for further tightening of the rules around unemployment benefits, suggesting that people aged 22-30, with no dependants or special exemptions, should be made to move to areas with higher job prospects or lose access to benefits after 12 months on the dole.

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