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.



  1. billybob says:

    You forgot to mention the people that have no intention of coming off welfare. I hear ya, and agree its a piss poor system to penalise everyone but something has to be done. I see this shit first hand (work at a bank) and it breaks my heart seeing people blow all there money on shit which should have gone to their kids. Decent article but I think you underestimate the amount of people rorting the system. Can’t be alp take an no give (And in no way I am implying that everyone does this).

  2. Sam Cooney says:

    Being on the dole is not “rorting the system”, billybob — this is something you’ll need to enter into your brain so you can reset your thinking and begin to understand the situation.

    The thing is, even if a person does actively choose to be on the dole (and that’s a very, very, very small minority of total people receiving welfare support), the amount of money paid to that person is measly, and that person also has to suffer constant shaming. Being on the dole is not fun for anyone! Even those who choose to be on it—because they’ve given up looking for jobs that aren’t there, or because of their mental health, or because of dozens of other legitimate reasons—aren’t exactly living lives of leisure. They’re slogging it out, barely paying the increasing amount of money it costs to live in Australia.

    Making someone who has no job do pointless work so they can receive a small bit of money every fortnight so they don’t die, and making that someone apply for 40 jobs that they’ll never get or that don’t even exist — this will not fix anything. The thing that needs fixing? The fact that the federal government wants the 600,000ish people who are completely jobless at any one time to all get jobs when there are approximately 150,000ish jobs available at that same any time.

    I really think you need to read Alex’s article again, as slowly and carefully as she wrote it, because the answers to your false impressions are all contained within.

  3. Perigar says:

    The statistics from the department of human services show that about 0.05% of people on newstart abuse the system.

  4. billybob says:

    You may want to read my comment again, start to finish rather than twist views for your all encompassing misconstrued view. Like I said read the comment again, you are refuting things I did not say.

  5. billybob says:

    .05% are caught. Statistics can show many things.

  6. Sam Cooney says:

    “rorting the system”

  7. billybob says:

    Pointing out that someone may be underestimating the amount of people “rorting the system” and implying being on the dole is “rorting the system” are two different things. I’m on your side don’t worry. I don’t support the work for the dole scheme nor do I believe it will achieve anything. I just think we should be moving toward a conversation, political correctness aside for the betterment of society.

  8. Caitlin Welsh says:

    They also “catch” a lot of people who are honest about life circumstances that have no effect on their ability to support themselves but reduce or eliminate payments nonetheless. I could go into detail about my dealings with them over the years – let’s just say I spent more time just trying to prove that I needed assistance than I did applying myself to my job hunt.

    They are very, very strict, and dealing with them is an emotionally draining experience that would make Sisyphus weep. I’m willing to bet there are more people who genuinely need (and deserve) a little help and are denied, harassed or demonised, than there are career dole bludgers who are happy to live below the poverty line so they can punch cones all day. I’m not sure what your agenda is in focusing on the few who do “rort” the system, but all you’re doing is implying that any of the thousands of honest people trying to get by could actually just be a rorter. It’s just not a big problem. The mental health and dignity of the half a million unemployed Australians for whom there are no job openings should be a much bigger concern.

  9. billybob says:

    Couldn’t agree more that it is a bigger issue. I just think that the whole stigma could be changed by renewing the public’s faith from what we have now. Do you think these things are related? One day I will be at the mercy of the system so sorry if I offended, just something I’m passionate about.

  10. L.m.M says:

    I honestly agree with everything I have read in your comments billybob.Yes, something does need to be done to get pure bludgers of the dole, so that when hard working tax payers need money from the government to get through a hard time or unemployment period, it is there to be accessed quickly and EASILY. My current situation is living proof, was on the dole as a high school student, and then dropped both to work. Got up every morning before most my age had gone to bed, work all day, pay taxes etc. Then, when the time comes to need the dole, because events lead me to being both jobless and homeless, couldn’t get a cent for months, and still isn’t the payment i am entitled to. Meanwhile I know personally people that sit around all day, receiving high rates of the dole and have no excuse to not work, even as far as not attempting to look for work, yet no dramas getting the payment from the dole each fortnight.
    Sorry if I’ve made any noob moves, bar my opinion, I’m not usually one for adding onto forums/comment feeds.

  11. Eddie Zapolskis says:

    Ok. Lets look at this from another point of view. Hows about all the “young” unemployed anxiety ridden people step back and have a good hard look at themselves. Getting a job doesnt mean you only limit yourself to centrelinks way of finding work. Plenty of businesses dont advertise jobs, so a little bit of INITIATIVE from our next generation and doing it the old school way of pounding the pavement and ADVERTISING yourself should be taken on. Also alot of my friends that are long term unemployed make excuse after excuse and blame the government for there entire lives being shitty. Its in your mindset to be held down because thats how the government wants you to feel. If you solely rely on finding jobs on the net, you will be overlooked at every turn. MOTIVATE YOURSELF because thats what any prospective employer wants. Motivated self starters who wont blame everyone for there shortcomings.

  12. Le Singe says:

    Sounds like a nice world you live in, Eddie.

    Fortunately I’m not unemployed, but I feel for young people from less fortunate families trying to find work where I live. After I finished school I was lucky enough that my parents could buy me an old bomb of a car, which enabled me to get to the station and make my way to uni. Even then, it took me nearly six months to find a casual job in my area (rural outskirts of Sydney), and that job is a few suburbs over, and a 25km drive from my house – a location only accessible only by car. The suburb itself has a Woolies, a Bi-Lo (Coles), a KFC (guess how their applications are handled? not by just walking in with a smile!) and a very small number of smaller businesses.

    There simply AREN’T enough jobs for all of the unemployed population. Does that make sense? That’s what these articles are ultimately getting at. If the number of AVAILABLE JOBS is lower than the number of UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE, then said unemployed people CANNOT simply “magic up some initiative and motivation” and fill spaces that don’t exist. Not to mention the government’s new schemes are aimed at making it *even harder* to do exactly what you’ve described.

    There is NO public transport to get around my suburb, and being a rural area, not much is within walking distance of a lot of people. If my parents hadn’t been in a position to get me that car, no matter how much initiative I had, frankly I would’ve been screwed. With no financial backing and no experience, moving to an area with “better prospects” would’ve been a pipe dream, the rejection letters would’ve continued to flow, and finding a job would’ve been nigh on impossible, regardless of my willingness or my motivation.

    Fortunately I didn’t have to experience that. But for a lot of people, that’s their REALITY. And from your response, I’m not sure you see the full picture. Yeah. All people need to do to do is “have a good hard look at themselves” and walk down the street with some initiative. (Sucks that they’ll be working for the dole during business hours though! I guess they can magic up Time Turners for themselves while they’re at it?)

  13. Eddie Zapolskis says:

    I drive 1hour to work in Bankstown area, 1 hour home. 6 years ago I was unemployed in a “rural” area suffering depression as well. So your assumptions about me are way off. I’m simply trying to empower some people to see there are other ways. My company i work for put me through a Mature age apprenticeship when i was 30. And i didnt find that job online.
    I come from a working class background and live in Mt Druitt. So believe me I see the ungodly amount of unemployed in my area all super happy taking government handouts and not clothing or feeding their kids. Im not saying all young people are whingers. I simply want to change there perception that finding a job isn’t just online these days. I did say MOTIVATE YOURSELF. But here you go making EXCUSES again. That’s ok. I struggle. We all do. Paying off a house on one income isn’t easy either but am I whinging about it. Its MY MOTIVATION that keeps me going to work day in day out. Its all about self-gratification. So drop your assumption that driving 25 km each way is sooo hard. You simply summed up the way your generation sees having to work. Thanks for your comment though.

  14. Le Singe says:

    If you read my comment again, you’ll see that I wasn’t complaining about the 25km drive I had. I was outlining how this was ONLY possible because I had a car to make that trip. It’s incredibly difficult to find a reliable second hand car at the best of times. On the pittance Youth Allowance or Newstart pays, the car, plus the associated insurance, Greenslip and rego fees (which can be nearly $1k for young drivers!) is just astonishing and will require months or years of saving before a young person can even get moving. This is just one small example of how issues of socio-economic backgrounds are far more complex than “initiative” or “motivation”.

    You’ll notice I wasn’t complaining or excusing my situation at all. In fact, I said I feel very fortunate. As I said, I’m not – nor have I ever been – unemployed, or received government assistance of any kind. But if I were a kid just out of school, with no car, no financial backing, no help AT ALL outside of government benefits, this would be FAR more complicated than just “muscling up some motivation”.

    By the way – “my generation” is also your generation, so trying to put some kind of sweeping wedge between people on the basis of age is a copout. You may remember that ten years ago, “more mature” people in their 30s or older were saying the same things about us. Hell, the baby boomers and older folk are STILL complaining about us. It’s just not – and never has been – as simple as that.

  15. Cebine says:

    I’m really interested in everyone’s comments below. Following this whole debate over the last few weeks/ months, I’ve been shocked at some of the abuse and vehement anger coming out from some people. But this seems to be a well considered conversation. So… here’s my two cents.

    I agree with what some people are implying – that there is such a thing as ‘rorting’ the system, as it’s being phrased. I take that to mean people who are on welfare when they shouldn’t be, or have no intention or demonstrate no ability to get off it. The thing is, it’s circumstances like intergenerational poverty, addiction, mental health, lack of equality, lack of opportunity and so many other complex issues which are often associated with welfare dependency – something which can be intergenerational too. And in that regard, yes, I agree something should be done. Something constructive should be done to address these social and economic issues, and to better our society from the ground up.

    I don’t think it’s too much of a cliche to cite the old adage ‘judge a society by how it treats its weakest members’. Take a look at Denmark, or Sweden for example. And the current Australian government, whose function and purpose is to… well, govern, and lead and collect people’s taxes and use it to take good and just care of society… they’re not, in my opinion, cutting the mustard at all in this case.

    The clear and incontrovertible fact is that the number of people without work far outweighs job vacancies. No amount of bullying will change that.

    If it’s those who rort, or cheat (or whatever term you want to use) the system who are bothering everyone so much – the very small minority of welfare recipients – it makes little sense to squeeze even tighter on all who receive welfare. It smacks of punishment for having the audacity to expect a welfare payment. It’s almost seems as though they’re [the government] being tough on the people who have the least in order to set an example, to show their voters that they’re taxes aren’t going to the undeserving (fellow Australians), and as a deterrent against finding oneself unemployed or in need.

    Do bare in mind that as things are, it is not a breeze to get onto a welfare payment. You have to be poor. You have to be means tested. You can’t have any assets or anything much to your name. Then once you’re on it you are continuously required to jump through hoops. And absolutely, people ought to be seeking to get back to work if they are able, to be trained, and aiming to become an active citizen. And people are. People on newstart live on or below the poverty line, depending on their expenses, which should be enough of an incentive, and are already required to seek and apply for AT LEAST 20 jobs a month, to prove it, to attend meetings, and to work for the dole after 1 year. What’s the arbitrary 40 jobs a month figure about? Where did that come from? (The lack of empirical evidence used in these reforms is deeply troubling in itself) Work for the dole is already in place as an incentive and stepping stone to get off welfare with little evidence of it’s effectiveness. Why are people being asked to work for the dole from the get go? It’s an insult to work jobs for less 10 dollars an hour. That implies that either the tasks are menial and don’t really need to be paid for, or that the persons performing them aren’t worth paying. Work is work, isn’t it? We have a minimum wage for a reason, don’t we? And I find it rather patronising to hear that it’s about giving back to your community, and about building up your work ethic so as not to, and I quote Abetz, “not falling into the welfare lifestyle”. ….I urge you to think carefully about what these words imply. To spell it out: that you’re not contributing anything, that you’ve not got sense or a work ethic, or ability unless you are, at this moment, a tax payer, and furthermore, that welfare is a choice. There are so many ways to give to your community. Sure, doing some community service after a period of being on the dole might do some good for some, and most of all the community. Fair enough, I guess. But why enforce more of it? Given the lack of positive evidence, and more to the contrary, this approach seems hamfisted, to say the least.

    What’s going on is a demonisation of unemployed people. Creating the myth that unemployment is a choice, and therefore those that choose it should be corrected. It’s creating a marked underclass, and really nasty division between those that have the least and the ‘good, hardworking, honest tax payer’. (It might be an irrelevant side note, but imagine if tax rorting was outlawed! wouldn’t that be nice!) And for whatever reason, young people – the future, if you will – are a particular target of all this. .I can’t fathom this idea of 6 months waiting before receiving unemployment benefits.To sentence a citizen of this rather lucky country to live on NO money for half a year, when it takes a human being 3 weeks to starve to death… It’s preposterous.

    People might argue that this isn’t enough – it’s not hard enough. but how is making it harder going to achieve anything beneficial? Beneficial to the point of outweighing the negative impact it is already having and will increasingly have on mental health, which in itself can be a cause of unemployment…? I just can’t see any good here. And I don’t believe this is the only way.

    I don’t feel I’m exaggerating by saying most people don’t want to live on the poverty line, or live their life struggling to keep above it. Most people want to live happy, prosperous lives. And any one of us could find ourselves in need of welfare help due to countless possible circumstances, not least of all the lack of jobs available. Maybe some people need a little extra motivation or help finding work. … well I think that’s what those job agencies contracted through centrelink are about. But they don’t seem to be able to solve the issue with the jobs market. This idea that we all have the ability to have and do and be whatever we set our minds to… well, if only it were that simple.

    Oh… and I pay taxes. and I’m getting educated so I can keep paying taxes. And I openly acknowledge that I’m very lucky to be in such a position. It’s not my right, or down solely to my powers of motivation. I’ve been on youth allowance. And it’s tough. I live quite a modest life, even though I earn and I kearn. But I have been lucky to have had the opportunities I’ve had. Let’s hope it lasts. And I’m proud and happy to think that a percentage of the tax I pay (and would continue to pay even if welfare didn’t exist) goes towards helping a fellow citizen who needs help, and isn’t as fortunate as I.

    Okay. The end. Rant over.

    Goodnight, everyone! Peace.

  16. Jjohn Ssmith says:

    Hi Alexandra, sorry to hear that things have not changed much since my experience with longterm unemployment in 81/82 and 87/88. Feelings of extreme despair, anxiety, worth-lessness and BORED out of my skull. Surprising that the discussion below focuses on dole-bludging (blaming the victim) instead of considering ways to assist, comments on what is working or not working in some govt/business programs, what needs to be done to fix things, etc etc.

    Please keep writing.