A change to Centrelink that’s due to start next month has been described as “the Hunger Games crossed with Black Mirror” and has prompted concerns for what could happen for those not capable of meeting the new requirements for welfare payments.
From July 1, the current system of mutual obligations, tasks, activities, job searches and interviews a person has to complete to receive their payments will be removed, with the points-based activation system (PBAS) taking its place, per news.com.au.
Though some are happy to see the mutual obligations system come to an end, there are concerns about the problems the new PBAS – which requires recipients to earn 100 points and do at least five job searches a month – could bring.
Welfare recipients can complete any of more than 30 tasks and activities from the system’s list, with each task carrying their own points value.
Though programs like PaTH Internship, the National Work Experience Program, and Launch Into Work are worth 25 points – enough to reach 100 points in total – others like full-time Work for the Dole, the Adult Migrant English Program and Skills for Education and Employment are worth just 20 – requiring recipients to take on extra tasks to make up the remaining 20 points.
Five points are also earned for every five hours of paid work, 20 are received for attending a job interview, and being part of the Defence Force Reserves can earn recipients 10 points, with relocating for a job being the only task worth the full 100 points.
If individuals earn more than their monthly 100 points, up to 50 can be banked for the following month.
However, welfare recipients have been warned their payments could be suspended and they could receive a demerit if their points target or job search minimum aren’t met.
The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) said the new system dialled mutual obligations “up to 11” and that it was “the Hunger Games crossed with Black Mirror”.
“Using technology to ‘gamify’ starvation points (score them or lose your payment) is morally offensive to basic human decency,” the organisation said in a statement.
“This is not the design of a human welfare system – this is the design of a digital workhouse set up to brutalise people in desperate economic need and push them out of the system and onto the street.”
With concerns raised about some people’s ability and capacity to meet these requirements, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) has advised that these requirements could be reduced, the value of some tasks could increase, or additional activities could be created as an “activity bonus” based on personal circumstances.
However, there is also confusion about how these changes – and which provider welfare recipients will be reporting to – will play out when it is introduced in less than a month, with the AUWU fearing another “robodebt-style disaster”.
“The AUWU advocacy team is receiving a large number of reports from members telling su the system has not been properly explained to them,” advocacy coordinator Racquel Araya said.
“We are trying to get a handle on this system so that we can advise those reaching out, and we still do not have clarity from the department on how exactly the reporting will work, how problems will be handled or resolved and whether Centrelink has the appropriate capacity to deal with the increased call centre inquiry volume.”
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This article first appeared on OverSixty.