Since 2013 founder and chief executive Toby Whittington has met job-seekers through the work for the dole scheme. Those described above are among the 500 or so he has known, who are among the 87,000 West Australians on unemployment payments.
They were all very different people, Mr Whittington said. But they had something in common: their struggle to survive on Newstart.
Newstart has not increased in nearly 25 years, or in line with other welfare benefits. Recipients live on $277 per week, the lowest unemployment benefit in the OECD and less than half the OECD average.
Studies show it is not a short-term payment; two-thirds of people get stuck on it for more than a year. And in Mr Whittington’s experience, it is forcing them further into poverty.
He said some Work for the Dole participants missed program days because they couldn’t afford train fare. Then their payments got cut off altogether.
Some were experiencing homelessness or living in their cars to try to make ends meet, he said. And without an address, it was even harder to get a job.
Newstart recipients had something else in common, Mr Whittingstall said: none of them enjoyed it.
“I have never met someone on the dole who’s this archetype of this lazy dole bludger,” Mr Whittington said.
“They are all eager and keen to show you they are able to do it and they love the immediacy of achieving something.
“I have a guy working as a volunteer, he really loves it up here, loves being involved and is getting back on his feet after three or four years of unemployment. He’s changed, started to flourish and he’s had more responsibilities. Now he’s supervising other volunteers.
“He comes two days a week now but he can’t actually afford the bus to get here for a third or fourth day.
“The system is not working. In our experience, over the years it’s geared towards keeping people unemployed, with lots of activities but not job creation.”
Mr Whittington said the situation was having a knock-on health effect seen in skyrocketing mental illness rates.
“In a first world society this is just unacceptable,” he said.
“We have to start looking at the cost of not raising it. What will it cost us to have such a huge gap between the relative rich and the relative poor?
“What are these other costs going to be for society if we don’t support people who are less fortunate?
“It’s not about a hand out, it’s a hand up.”
Talking about a revolution
Over the past seven years as Green World Revolution has grown, Mr Whittington has created 21 paid employment opportunities. But his scope to do more is limited.
He has previously had ideas to create real jobs through new enterprises in which Work for the Dole employees can get businesses off the ground, but the program being solely for registered not-for-profits prevents any creative applications such as this.
He is weary of a cycle in which he builds trust with new participants over six months, only for them to get assigned to a different group and start all over again.
“For a lot of people doing it tough, trust is a huge issue,” he said. “But then the project comes to an end … they’re right back to where they were six months ago.
“Middle management maintain their jobs, the administration is alive and kicking, while the same unemployed people go through their books year in and year out.”
Mr Whittington said there were huge job creation opportunities in large-scale carbon farming and other environmental offsets projects.
“We are in a global environmental crisis,” he said. “We have millions of unemployed people all itching to be productive. There is a lot of work to do in reforestation, sequestering carbon and turning the environment around. We just need as a society to be thinking on a much grander scale.
“Green World Revolution will put their hands up to give it a crack. And it wouldn’t cost the earth.”
Raising the rate
Meanwhile, the Senate on Monday began debating West Australian Senator Rachel Siewert’s latest private member’s bill to increase Newstart, Youth Allowance and other payments by $75 a week.
A 2018 bill expired in October 2018 when Parliament dissolved and an election was called.
A 2017 bill sought an increase of $55 a week and was defeated with only 11 out of 56 senators voting aye.
Since then, Ms Siewert said in Parliament on Monday, the public and political mood had changed.
“A number of Labor MPs have publicly come out in support of raising the rate, including Mike Freelander, Nick Champion, Patrick Gorman, Josh Wilson, Ged Kearney and Chris Hayes,” she said.
“Labor Leader Anthony Albanese said in Perth last Tuesday ‘the bells are ringing for an increase in Newstart’.
“Former leader of the Nationals Barnaby Joyce joined current and former Coalition colleagues John Howard, Matthew Canavan and Arthur Sinodinos in calling for an increase to Newstart.