24.9 Welfare As Disincentive To Work
From The Reality Of Welfare part of 'The Australian Achievement' by M Cooray (1996)

A cry from a worried father in the Letters column of The Australian on Thursday, 12th June 1986 illustrates the debilitating effect of welfare on young people:

Sir — I am the father of a young apprentice boat builder. My boy is 18 years and in the second year of his apprenticeship.

He rises each morning (six days a week) at 5.30 am, his mother cooks him breakfast and he leaves home at 6.15 am to be at his place of employment by 7 am.

He puts in a hard long day, he averages 45 hours a week, its dusty, dirty and physically exhausting, as one would expect. He does all the cleaning up, even using his own utility to take rubbish to the dump.

His boss, the boat builder, is a most competent craftsman, a young man himself with two small children and an ambition to build the best boats in Australia.

They take eight months to hand build a 42 ft cruiser. Each boat is a true work of art.

I am pleased for my son. He is learning a really great trade but it is a demanding job and there is little time for outside activities or pleasures like surfing.

Unfortunately, most of my son's friends are unemployed. They had no need to work as at 18 years of age they receive unemployment benefits of $88.20 a week, plus they can earn up to $30 extra a week without jeopardising their benefit.

Most of these boys are excellent sportsmen, six of them live in an old rented house. They have a combined income of $529.20 a week and can earn another $180 a week without affecting their unemployment benefit. Usually they don't bother because $529.20 per week is quite enough.

Well, my son is just a little bitter. He is paid around $160 a week clear for a six-day working week. The money is fine for the time being but his lifestyle in comparison to his friends is appalling. You see, the fibreglass and resins they use have inherent problems to the user but that is something you have to put up with.

Its a hell of a job to keep him motivated. The good life is all around him and obviously he would like to join his friends on the coast - laugh, drink beer, catch a few big waves, maybe make love in the mornings or live in Bali for a couple of months.

How do you know that lifestyle? Its really living! Follow the sun to Red Bluff in winter, spear a few rock lobsters, take up with a good-looking girl, enjoy life to its fullest.

Life on the dole for an intelligent, motivated, organised, single young man is quite pleasant. Why should they strive and work and learn a difficult and sometimes dirty trade? Why should they work in cold draughty sheds or rise each day at 5.30 a.m. when their friends are sleeping in.

Do you blame my son's friends for their preferred lifestyle? I don't. They have it made, thanks to our generous Government. Tomorrow is another day.

My question: Can we afford this situation? I think not. What do you think? — Richard Fordham, Hollywood, WA

Modern welfare encourages young people to pursue a life of leisure which provides no opportunities for advancement. An individual finds commitment and meaning in life in productive employment - which the welfare system in effect denies to these people by providing incentives to opt out. The education system is also partly responsible. The undermining of discipline and the basics in education has not prepared individuals for the real world of work and discipline.

The common argument which is adduced in response is that the unemployed are not unemployed by choice. Many business people advertise jobs and cannot find those willing to take them up. Many unemployed are choosy about jobs. They reject jobs which require hard work. Their education and training has not prepared them for the commitment and discipline that is required for regular employment.