An unemployed Melburnian who complained about the $20-a-week increase to JobSeeker has hit back after experiencing a wave of backlash over his criticism of Australia’s welfare system.
Graphic designer Jez Heywood, 47, last week told The Australian the extra $2.85 a day was so small as to make no difference to the “absolutely atrocious” rate of $693.10 a fortnight.
Mr Heywood, who has been unemployed since 2017 and has limited job options due to health conditions, told the newspaper he would be homeless if not for the ability to live rent-free in a granny flat on his parents’ property.
But his comments sparked drew the ire of talkback radio, with 2GB breakfast host Ben Fordham urging him to “get a job” in a scathing segment about “dole bludgers”.
Now, Mr Heywood has revealed the lengths he has taken to find work in a bid to silence the haters.
“For all the idiots telling me to get a job that obviously don’t know how mutual obligations work, here you go: 11 applications in the past fortnight,” he wrote.
The Melburnian also shared a screenshot of a Seek advert for a freelance graphic designer in Hawthorn that had over 100 candidates apply for it.
Jez Heywood at his home in Carrum Downs. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian
Graphic designer lashes JobSeeker increase
Last week, Mr Heywood told The Australian he was “angry” and “annoyed” at the federal government.
“This is nothing, absolutely nothing,” he said.
“The government commissioned a study that said significant increases were needed and they’ve ignored it.”
The government had been under pressure to increase the Jobseeker payment from $49.50 a day to around $1000 a fortnight, or about $68 a day — 90 per cent of the Age Pension — as recommended by the Department of Social Services’ Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee.
Labor said the $24 billion cost to the budget was something it couldn’t afford, but agreed to a much smaller across-the-board increase of $2.85 a day, or about $20 a week.
Mr Heywood told The Australian the payment should be at least $88 a day to keep recipients above the poverty line.
“I have to go without pretty much any form of entertainment — in a previous life, I was a music journalist and bought a lot of music — I can’t do that anymore, I can’t buy books anymore,” he said.
“You have to weigh up every financial decision you make. There is no room for error. There’s no room for unexpected bills. If I were to get a speeding ticket, it would ruin me.”
Dad issues blunt message to Mr Heywood
A father of two has delivered a blunt message to Mr Heywood, saying when he was in the same situation he “got off my arse and did whatever I could”.
Writing for alternative news site The BFD, the anonymous blogger took aim at the graphic designer over his controversial comments about welfare.
“I don’t wholly dispute those welfare advocates who claim that the dole is difficult to live on,” he wrote.
“Seven hundred dollars a fortnight ($850 with rent assistance) isn’t a lot of money, for sure. But surely the point is that it’s not meant to be? After all, if everyone could live on the dole, why would anyone bother working? But if welfare advocates want to make their case, they need to find better sob stories than this one.”
Writing for The BFD, the blogger said he had been in the exact same situation as an “unemployed middle-aged graphic designer”, but in the position of having to take care of two school-aged children.
“I had to keep paying a mortgage,” he said.
“I didn’t have the luxury of bludging off my parents in my middle-age … But, hey, what did I do, as an unemployed, middle-aged graphic designer? With health issues, too? Got off my arse and did whatever I could to bring in some money. I milked cows and cleaned houses, for a while. It wasn’t easy, and the money was pretty poor, but it kept the bills paid and the kids fed until something better came along. And it was infinitely better than dealing with Centrelink.”
A Jobseeker rally in Adelaide. Picture: Kelly Barnes/NCA NewsWire
Jim Chalmers defends JobSeeker increase
In his budget speech on Tuesday, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the Jobseeker increase was all about “helping to deliver a much-needed $4.9 billion boost in support to around 1.1 million Australians looking for work, studying or doing apprenticeships”.
“The pressures on the budget are acute — but as a Labor government we will always strive to help those who need it the most,” he said.
Business Council of Australia (BCA) chief executive Jennifer Westacott, speaking to ABC Radio last week, welcomed the increase to Jobseeker but questioned what the government was doing to get long-term dole recipients into work.
“You’ve got to fix this system because it’s not working,” she told RN Breakfast.
“There are nearly 40,000 people on Jobseeker who have been on it for 10 years. That tells you the system is not working, something is wrong there. We need to invest in skills, we need to get people that are targeted for jobs that they can get. We need to stop sending people to jobs that they have no chance of getting.”
There are 40,000 long-term Jobseeker recipients. Picture: Emma Brasier/NCA NewsWire
Ms Westacott said the budget’s foundation skills package should be targeted to “very disadvantaged job seekers” or people who had been on welfare for a long time.
“Over time, we need to get Jobseeker at 90 per cent of the Age Pension, which I think we all agree on,” she said.
“We’ve got to do that in a staged way timed with proper reforms to the way the job services system works. For example, why are we giving providers payments after someone has just been in a job for four weeks when they should be in a job for 26 weeks and it shows that they’ll be in the job for longer? Why aren’t we giving long-term unemployed people a training guarantee so they can upgrade their digital skills and get into the workforce?”
Appearing on the same program, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Michele O’Neil said “more needs to be done to lift people out of poverty”.
“Because one of the things with that payment being so low, is that you don’t have the money to be able to pay rent, you don’t have secure housing, you’re missing meals, you can’t get the data on your phone to be able to look for a job, you can’t pay for the transport to go to job interviews,” she said.
Asked whether the extra $40 a fortnight made those things more achievable, Ms Wood said it was “a start, but it’s not enough”.
Labor MP Julian Hill, chair of parliament’s Select Committee on Workforce Australia Employment Services, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was “a myth that all unemployed people are ready to work or able to do the jobs available”.
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“In fact, the data shows a giant mismatch between what employers are seeking and the enormously complex caseload of unemployed people including skills gaps, disabilities and illness,” he said.
“There is strong evidence that the current system has failed to invest in people and is not adapted to their diverse needs, backgrounds, and circumstances. Trotting out stereotypes of ‘dole bludgers’ who should just ‘get a job’ will get a headline but won’t actually change anything. Long-term unemployment won’t be reduced without understanding the actual experiences of people.”