The impact of mutual obligation policies on, unemployed young people, community organisations, and the wider community

Welfare recipients Welfare state Youth unemployment Australia
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The Commonwealth government has progressively implemented a major shift in social policies towards the unemployed, utilising a re-configured ideology of community. Changes have included a streamlining of service delivery (via Centrelink), quasi-marketisation of community organisations, and re-defining of the roles, entitlements and obligations of recipients and communities.

Young people, aged between 18 and 24, have been the focus of special attention regarding these changes. The major change implemented under the banner of “Mutual Obligations” is for young jobseekers (18 to 24 inclusive) to engage in extra Activity Test requirements. The principle underpinning this obligation states that “unemployed job seekers, supported financially by the community, should actively seek work, constantly strive to improve their competitiveness in the labour market and give something back to the community that supports them” (Centrelink, Questions & Answers, attachment B). This principle is supported by the rationale that Mutual Obligations will “encourage young people to look for work more actively and be less selective about job opportunities... [furthermore] mutual obligation activities will help many young people escape the cycle of unemployment by participating in an activity which will increase their long-term job prospects and employability” (Centrelink, Questions & Answers, attachment B). It is clear that the Mutual Obligation policies envisage a positive outcome for young people, employers and the broader community.

The Youth Allowance and Mutual Obligation provisions have received significant criticism on the basis that such policies disadvantage some youth experiencing long-term unemployment, by defining recipients as a social and economic liability who consequently need to “earn” their benefits. Such policy changes represent a redefinition of citizenship rights and obligations of young job seekers, especially in regard to responsibilities towards the state and the community.

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