If you’ve ever wondered why people living in poverty don’t just ‘go out and get a job’, you may have neglected to factor in how out of reach full-time employment is for many Australians.
Research director at University of NSW’s Social Policy Research Centre, kylie valentine* explains the employment obstacles which prevent some people from gaining full-time work.
“What job?” valentine says in SBS's online video, The Truth About Unemployment. “We know that there are 10 people who are unemployed or who are underemployed for every job that’s out there,” she says. “So, there are just not [enough] jobs there.”
“We’ve managed to convince ourselves that the problem is ‘something is wrong with them’ rather than ‘something is wrong with the availability of jobs’."
Unemployment might be at a five-year-low—currently sitting at 5.4 per cent—but underemployment is the worst it’s been in the 40 years since it was first recorded. In March this year, it was reported that 1.1 million Australians were underemployed—meaning they were working less than 35 hours per week but wanted, and were available for, more hours.
“…We’ve managed to convince ourselves that the problem is ‘something is wrong with them’ rather than ‘something is wrong with the availability of jobs’,” says valentine.
Earlier this year, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) called for an end to the stigma associated with people who are jobless.
“We’re seeing repeated mean-spirited attempts to vilify and demonise people who are locked out of paid work, mostly through no fault of their own,” says the CEO of ACOSS, Dr Cassandra Goldie in a statement made earlier this year.
“People receiving income support are parents, carers, people with disabilities, older workers and people of diverse backgrounds, facing major barriers to competing in the open labour market.”
Assistant pastor at Sydney’s Wayside Chapel, Jon Owen, tells SBS that people in a position of privilege can easily forget the help they’ve received on their way to a successful career.
“Who of us here who’s had good access and good opportunities in life could face 10, 20, 30 job rejections in a row?” he explains in the video.
“That takes a hit on each of us. Have the wrong postcode on your job application and you’ll know what it’s like to be put at the bottom of the pile immediately.”
valentine adds that being unemployed isn’t just about disadvantage, “it’s also a question of inequality and the things that a lot of people get for nothing and other people don’t”.
“We don’t always recognise that when we’re thinking about ‘what’s wrong with those people?’ We don’t often think, ‘Well, what is it that I’ve got? What luck have I had that’s made the difference for me?”
If you or someone you know needs support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
*name intentionally spelt in lower case.
All six episodes of Struggle Street series two are available to view on SBS On Demand.
Struggle Street series two is produced by KEO Films with funding support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria.