Australia’s crash into recession has pushed employment into the spotlight. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have lost their jobs and whole regions have been forced to a standstill. We emerged from a national economic shutdown only to encounter a second, brutal pandemic wave.
A record number of Australians are locked out of work, and pictures of Centrelink queues dominated early coverage of the pandemic. This begs the question: Are our systems ready to help people find work, and will it support them while they look
Anglicare Australia’s Jobs Availability Snapshot, launched in October, aims to answer these questions. What we found was a dire job market, and a reckoning for an employment system that has been failing people in the greatest need for years.
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, our system was not working for those who need the most help to find work. These might be people with disabilities, who didn’t finish year 12, or older workers who lost their jobs later in life. In the wake of a historic downturn, this has only gotten worse. Our research shows there are eight of these jobseekers competing for each job at their level.
There aren’t enough jobs at this skill level to meet demand in any part of the country. The situation is toughest in SA and Tasmania. In SA, ten of these jobseekers are competing for each suitable job. And in Tasmania, a staggering 21 jobseekers are competing for each one of these jobs.
These jobseekers aren’t just competing with each other. Graduates, laid-off workers, and people who are underemployed also apply for these jobs. Like everyone else, they are motivated to find work. When we factor in all jobseekers, there are an eye-watering 106 people for every vacancy.
For many of these Australians, the recession has only exacerbated the obstacles they face in finding work. The lack of jobs will see more people spend time outside the workforce if they are laid-off, and fewer young people will be able to get a foot in the door. As governments now focus on solutions to Australia’s unemployment crisis, it is more important than ever to help those with barriers to finding work.
So far, there have been some positive changes. The JobKeeper payment has helped many people hang on to their jobs, and the increase to JobSeeker has put people out of work above the poverty line for the first time in decades. Yet these changes were hard won, and they are only temporary – the Government was forced to act because it could not plunge hundreds of thousands of people into poverty, and it could not ignore the gaping holes in our safety net. Now, we are being forced to fight to keep the Government’s own solution. Other decisions, like the return of mutual obligations, are only hurting people already in hardship.
Those who are caught up in this system will not be helped by being punished. Instead they need support to live a decent life while Australia faces this downturn, and they need help to overcome the barriers they face as we all recover.
Our Snapshot also shows that Australia needs to invest in job creation. Hiring incentives, like those announced in the Budget, simply don’t have a track record of creating jobs. Job creation cannot be left to an already failing market – especially when shutdowns have added to the many fault lines in our system. We should be creating work that matches people’s skills, instead of forcing them to compete for jobs that just aren’t there.
Most importantly, we need to redesign our systems to include everyone. This is the biggest lesson we can take from 2020. This principle must inform how we take the next steps, both to look after those enduring hardship now, and to build our collective future. We must reimagine how we support each other to ensure help goes to those who need it most – and demand that governments reorganise its systems to make this happen.