May 16, 2019

Policy Spotlight: Housing and Employment

As we go to the election, health, climate, infrastructure, community services, and other social and economic issues important policy areas for us to consider for Australia’s future.

For me, as someone who has spent decades working on social issues as an academic, two (amongst many others) that I know are important to the fabric of society are safe, stable, affordable housing and adequate levels of income to ensure we all have access to the material basics we need. So, I’m just going to take a brief look at the housing and income / employment situations we’re facing as a country and the policy responses from our major parties.

Housing

Across Australia on any given night, 1 in 200 people are homeless and housing is still unaffordable and insecure for many. CSI’s Amplify Housing and Homelessness Insights Report outlines five key levers to address the problem - safety, affordability, accessibility, appropriateness, security and accessibility of housing. The major parties have responded in different ways to these levers:

  • Safety & crisis: The Coalition and ALP are looking to address the ‘safety’ issue by investing in crisis and domestic and family violence. The Greens have also promised to increase funding for crisis accommodation to $500 million per year.

  • Affordability: The Coalition are looking at affordability upstream with a First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, which has been matched by the ALP. The ALP and the Greens have also promised to increase the number of affordable homes (250,000 and 500,000 respectively) and they are both looking to address taxation levers to make housing more affordable.

  • Security: The ALP and Greens are both looking to address security of tenure through tenancy agreements/standards.

  • Strategically: Both the ALP and the Greens have committed to developing national strategies to address the issue (a national plan to reduce homelessness, via COAG for the ALP and a National Housing and Homelessness Strategy for the Greens). [More facts and figures can be found at the foot of this article].

Employment

Almost two million people across Australia experience unemployment or underemployment. The total number has grown this year with increases between Feb and March 2019 and March to April 2019 (the latest ABS figures released on 16 May). While unemployment is often one economic or business crisis, injury, disability, sickness or life crisis away for any of us, unemployment benefits persist below the poverty line.

 

Little has been said about poverty by the major parties in this election. The Greens, however, have committed to increase unemployment benefits and the ALP have stated they will review them. On the contrary, the Coalition’s budget relies on $2.1bn of savings over the next 5-years from automated changes to social security reporting.

 

We also know that wage growth has not kept up with the cost of living, especially for those on low incomes. The Coalition has focused on tax breaks to increase income. These tax breaks will provide limited relief for those on low incomes – adding between $1-$3.70/week to the budget (depending on income levels). The ALP has outlined a plan for higher wages that includes reversing the cuts to penalty rates, and addressing employment stability by cracking down on “permanent casualisation”, as well as committing to making the minimum wage a living wage. The Greens are focused increasing the minimum wage to 60% of the median wage, protecting penalty rates, and tackling income inequality for women.

 

Job growth is critical in an environment where there are there are not enough job vacancies for people who are seeking work. There are only around 1 in 3 jobs for all those who are unemployed and only enough for 1 in 7 when we add the underemployed who are also looking for more work. This is how the major parties have responded to increasing jobs and providing employment support:

 
  • More jobs: The Coalition is focused on creating 1.25 million jobs and implementing tax relief for small business. The ALP have committed to a tax break for small businesses who employ previously unemployed younger or older workers; changing procurement policies to increase localised employment; investment in apprenticeships and traineeships; a strategy to build the NDIS workforce. The Greens will establish a Future of Work Commission; work with the unemployed to overcome employment barriers.

  • Employment support and compliance: The Coalition will broaden employment services and supports for young people. The ALP will review the Work for the Dole system and reduce benefit compliance rules. The Greens propose abolishing the “20-job” application requirement for job seekers and some of the other compliance and mutual obligation requirements; and establishing a Charter of Rights and Expectations for employment services. 

These are just two of the election issues that are worth asking more questions about and understanding from different perspectives and systemically. There are many more that can be unpacked based on what’s most important to us, our families and society.

 

Professor Kristy Muir (with thanks to CSI UNSW’s Chris Hartley for the policy platforms)

 
 
 
Endnote: A summary of further information
 

The Liberal Party of Australia/National Party of Australia if elected have committed to:

 
  1. Homelessness and Housing:

  • Provide $78 Million in emergency accommodation and Safe at Home programs for women and children impacted by domestic and family violence;

  • Provide $82 Million for domestic and family violence front line services to identify and better support domestic violence victims, and the development of national standards for sexual assault responses;

  • Provide $64 Million to support 1800RESPECT (the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service).

  • Will implement the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme which will provide up to $500 Million to assist first home owners to obtain a deposit.

 
  1. Employment:

  • Create 1.25 million jobs over the next five years, including 250,000 new jobs specifically for young Australians;

  • Expand the Youth Jobs PaTH Program to pilot up to 10 industry-led job pathway programs to better target the training and internship experiences for young people;

  • Expand the l Transition to Work service to allow young people aged 22 to 24 years; and

  • Provide more flexibility and diversity around the activities job seekers are expected to do.

 

The Australian Labor Party if elected have committed to:

 
  1. Homelessness and Housing:

  • Develop and implement a national plan to reduce homelessness through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG);

  • Invest $6.6 Billion over 10 years to help fund 250,000 affordable homes that will be managed by the not-for-profit community housing sector;

  • Reinstate a Minister for Housing and Homelessness (whose remit will be to coordinate all aspects of housing policy);

  • Re-establish the National Housing Supply Council (provide robust, evidence-based, independent advice to government on housing supply and demand)

  • Introduce national tenancy standards for all residential tenancies, to ensure tenants’ rights are protected;

  • Reform Negative gearing (limited to new housing apart from past negatively geared investments) and Capital Gains Tax (discounts will be halved);

  • Invest $1.5 Billion over 10 years to address overcrowding and housing shortages for residents living in remote communities;

  • Invest $88 Million over two years for a new Safe Housing Fund to increase transitional housing options for women and children escaping domestic and family violence, young people exiting out-of-home care and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.

 

b) Employment:

  • Tax breaks worth up to $50,000 a year for small businesses for the employment of unemployed younger and older workers with an aim of 20,000 more jobs for people who have been unemployed for 3 months or more;

  • Changes to procurement for local jobs;

  • Review the Work for the Dole system and reduce benefit compliance rules;

  • Abolish the Community Development Program for remote First Nations communities;

  • Review the Targeted Compliance Framework with a view to reducing benefit compliance rules;

  • Review the Work for the Dole system including its impact on workplace health & safety;

  • Develop a national NDIS Workforce Strategy and invest $40Million in local NDIS workforce trials;

  • Ensure one in 10 jobs on Commonwealth priority projects goes to an apprentice or trainee.

 

The Australian Greens if elected have committed to:

 
  1. Homelessness and Housing

  • Supporting the development of a new National Housing and Homelessness Strategy;

  • Investing $500 million each year, indexed to CPI, to crisis services and transitional housing

  • Building 500,000 new public and community homes through a Federal Housing Trust with a net addition of 33,000 dwellings each year;

  • Establishing a national standard for residential tenancy agreements which includes minimum standards for energy and security, protect tenants against eviction, unfair rent rises, discrimination;

  • Winding back the Capital Gains Tax handout and phasing out negative gearing over five years.

 
  1. Employment

  • Legislate to lift the minimum wage to 60% of the median wage and to protect penalty rate;

  • Establish the Future of Work Commission to examine the impacts of technological innovation and develop long-term strategies for jobs;

  • Create public employment service for specialised not-for- profit sector services for those with complex barriers to employment;

  • Develop a Charter of Rights and Expectations for users of employment services

  • Abolish the Targeted Compliance Framework and remove the 20 job searches a month requirement for job seekers;

  • Abolish the Community Development Program for remote First Nations communities;

  • Introduce legal, workplace and economic reforms to address the root causes of women’s income inequality.

 

For further information about the major parties’ policies this Federal Election see each of their websites. Summaries can also be found at ACOSS’ Election Policy Tracker and Everybody’s Home Campaign Federal Election Scorecard.

 
 
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