THE only thing worse than work, is not working. I tried it once. Took six months off to study Mandarin and freelance, and geez it was boring.
Admittedly, I was totally up to date on all the latest TV shows and got weirdly into that adult colouring-in trend, but it didn’t take too long to realise that without an office I was adrift.
I needed structure, a desk, bosses telling me to do stuff. Otherwise it was three hours of colouring-in a tiger using various shades of purple.
That sabbatical was by choice and luckily employment was available when I wanted it. But no jobs are secure — especially in journalism. That experience gave me a small taste of unemployment and it wasn’t pleasant. It was unsettling, lonely and, after a while, a little depressing.
As much as many of us dream of winning Lotto and spending our days lying on the beach, the reality is work gives us a lot more than money. It’s the way we define ourselves, it is structure and meaning and gossip in the office kitchen.
Work is dignity.
The idea of not being able to find work is terrifying for many of us, but luckily we live in a country where a social security system means at the very least if we can’t find employment, we still eat.
If you lost your job tomorrow and burnt through your savings trying to stay afloat, you would hope that in your time of need the system you paid taxes to when you were employed would support you.
It’s not a scenario many people would relish, being dependent on welfare. If you’ve never had to receive benefits before and suddenly you find yourself in a Centrelink office, you’re probably not going to take a selfie to post on social media.
“Just signing up for the dole! Two-minute noodles for me for a while! #blessed.”
So imagine the feeling of insult to injury if you are signing up for benefits and are suddenly told that you have been selected for a random drug test. If it’s not bad enough that you’re stuck looking for work and living on handouts, now the Government thinks you’re a criminal because you have the audacity to be poor?
That’s what could happen under the program announced in the Federal Budget on Tuesday.
The Federal Government has decided it will test 5000 people receiving either Youth Allowance or Newstart at three locations. Positive tests for illicit drugs could see the recipients have their cash payouts replaced by a type of restricted debit card.
The argument of “workers receive random drug testing so why shouldn’t welfare recipients” is ridiculous. Most workplaces do not have drug testing.
Crazy idea — but perhaps the illicit drug trade, worth an estimated $6.7 billion a year, isn’t solely driven by people getting $501 a fortnight from Newstart.
If every workplace suddenly started testing its employees and firing anyone who smoked a bit of pot on the weekend you might suddenly find a lot more people in that Centrelink queue — and a few staff shortages in your schools, supermarkets, councils …
You might be thinking I’m looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses, that not everyone in the Centrelink queue is a hard worker fallen on tough times. You’re probably right, too.
There may be people in that queue who take their welfare payment and stick it in their arm and have absolutely no desire to find a job.
So what’s going to happen if we switch them from cash to a quarantined card? Are they going to get off the gear and put themselves through law school?
Let’s throw away these rose-coloured glasses. They’ll probably end up robbing your house for cash. Which is great. Because then they’ll get put into jail and the taxpayer will no longer be paying their welfare.
We’ll be paying $292 a day to keep them in prison, which is a massive saving on the $250.50 a week they could get on Newstart! Right?
Drug testing welfare recipients is a good political sound bite but the Government might be better to turn its focus towards creating jobs, rather than punishing those without.