SOUTH WEST youths could turn to a life of crime or “welfare pregnancies” if the federal budget’s Earn or Learn welfare crackdown is introduced.
The fears were raised by Salvation Army Bunbury Corps officer lieutenant Harriet Farquhar, who said the federal government did not have a good understanding of the problems faced by young people in the region.
Under the scheme announced last month, school leavers would face an immediate six-month waiting period before they could apply for Centrelink’s Youth Allowance unless they enter some form of training or higher education.
The waiting period would also affect all unemployed under-30s on either Newstart or Youth Allowance who have shown little effort to find work.
Lieutenant Farquhar said the changes would likely force young men and women to make bad choices out of desperation.
“For young men there is a huge black hole and the worry is they will resort to criminal activity to support themselves,” Lieutenant Farquhar said.
“For young women, parenting might seem like a good option to get welfare.”
Lieutenant Farquhar said Bunbury’s local branch was bracing for an influx of young people seeking assistance following the welfare changes.
“It will start off as a slow trickle and a couple of years down the track, if things don’t change, it’ll turn into a lot.”
But Federal Member for Forrest Nola Marino defended the scheme.
“Earn or Learn means if you’re not in a job, you should be in training or study,” Mrs Marino said.
“The best thing we can do for young people, for their family and community is to help them get a job and there are many ways the government is assisting.
“Studies in other countries similar to Australia have shown that if people in their early 20s are on welfare, there’s a big chance that they’re still going to be on welfare at the age of 35.”
Mrs Marino said young people in the South West should prepare to continue their education or explore training opportunities that will get them work in the future.
But South West MLC Adele Farina labelled the scheme “cruel” and said young people in the regions without family support would be the worst affected.
“This is a disgraceful policy that will do little to encourage young people to succeed and improve their life as all their energy will spent trying to avoid the crushing and demoralising effects of poverty,” Ms Farina said.
“The likelihood that young people without family support will turn to crime as a way of trying to get by is very high, this policy risks criminalising young people.
“I am also concerned that the charities in our community, providing support to those in need will be overwhelmed with requests for assistance and their already scant resources will be stretched to breaking point."
Lieutenant Farquhar said she wanted to see State MPs, local government and welfare agencies sit down and look at targeted strategies for the region’s welfare problems.
Have your say. Do you think the Earn or Learn strategy is fair? Email firstname.lastname@example.org