Culture

I’m Young And Unemployed, And ‘Work For The Dole’ Won’t Help

New work for the dole rule changes are putting pressure on people who are

I’d been unemployed for about five months when I started getting pins and needles in my hands and feet. The feeling was alarming. It would prickle around my toes, intensifying the more I panicked. Convinced I was dying, I went to a doctor who quickly diagnosed me as a nervous wreck and wrote me a referral to a physiologist. Turns out pins and needles are a fairly common symptom of severe anxiety.

In you want to talk about anecdotal evidence, let me tell you this – being unemployed has negatively affected my mental health. It’s made me feel completely and utterly worthless on more than one occasion. The current system makes feeling good about yourself a constant uphill battle, and I could direct you to a whole bunch of friends and colleagues who can say the same thing.

If you like your evidence a little less circumstantial, the Bureau of Statistics says that unemployment rates are much higher among people with a mental illness. It then goes on to say that it’s unclear whether unemployment causes mental illness or mental illness predisposes you to unemployment, or if maybe the whole thing is a terrifying, vicious circle of correlation and causation.

In another cheery turn of events, this study by Orygen Youth Health says that unemployment rates among people with mental illness are the worst of any disability group. People with a mental illness are also the largest (and fastest-growing) group of people on disability support. Want to know how most people get off disability support? They either graduate to the pension, or they die. About a quarter of young people in Australia have a mental illness. The youth unemployment rate is creeping steadily upwards. Connect whichever dots you feel are appropriate there.

The report also says that programs that aren’t based on evidence (like, random example, work for the dole) have a very, very low success rate. Astoundingly, programs that are tested by experts and proven to be effective are more effective than programs that seem like a good idea to politicians.

One of the many consequences of applying for an enormous quantity of jobs is that it results in an almost constant stream of rejection letters. Just when you’re starting to feel a little upbeat, another email will arrive in your inbox explaining (in surprisingly specific terms) why you are totally unqualified to work behind the counter at a cinema. A few months ago I applied for a job which literally involved putting herbs and spices into jars, and was asked what experience I had troubleshooting a professional label maker. I did not get that job.

Once you’ve gone to the effort of actually meeting their insane demands, most Centrelink employees don’t look twice at your carefully maintained job record. If you’ve gone to the effort to fill out the sheet, the assumption seems to be that you must have also filled the requirements. It becomes rather difficult to shake the feeling that the people at Centrelink think you’re a waste of their time despite the fact you are literally their job.

After his cursory scan of my eclectic mix of job applications, one Centrelink employee asked what my background was. When I told him I’d written a variety of things, including comedy, he started to very deliberately list every Australian comedy program he could think of — as if I mustn’t be trying very hard if I couldn’t even get a job on “that Micallef one”. While this was happening I got a parking ticket because I didn’t have enough money for the meter.

Meanwhile, if you’re a recent graduate it’s the hardest it’s been in twenty years to find work. Add that to the fact that youth unemployment is rising much faster than the overall unemployment rate and you get an idea of why I’ve started to avoid news websites.

It turns out that constantly being told that you’re a useless waste of taxpayer funds makes it rather more difficult to find an answer to the question “what do you think you can bring to this role?” Don’t even get me started on “what attracted you to this position?” – apparently “well it’s a job, isn’t it?” is not the answer most employers are looking for.

The people running this country appear to think that unemployed people are basically criminals. If you happen to be one of the rare exceptions to the dole bludger stereotype, popping up to inconveniently disprove the government, that’s a shame. Unfortunately you’ll just have to be sacrificed for the good of the country. You’re probably useless deep down anyway, otherwise why the hell would you be unemployed? Unemployment is a lifestyle choice, after all. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the government’s politics, there’s a point when it’s difficult not to take all this a little bit to heart.

The current system is demoralising, let alone whatever insanity is going to come into effect as a result of the government’s proposed changes. Unemployment has consequences. It can be all too easy for vulnerable people to fall into a whirlpool of despair, as the chance of stable employment seems to slip further and further away. It’s important, when we talk about these changes to remember that it’s about more than those forty jobs.

Alexandra Neill is a co-director at the National Young Writers Festival and has been a writer for Good News Week, an Ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month and the editor of comedy review website The Pun. She tweets @paper_bag_girl.

Feature image via Wikipedia.