Opinion Politics — 11 June 2014

Dr Vanessa Rose, a researcher who works to improve the mental health of young unemployed people, has joined other experts in sounding the alarm about the Federal Budget’s harmful impacts upon young people.

Dr Rose, a psychologist and Adjunct Fellow at the Centre for Health Research at the University of Western Sydney, suggests that punitive welfare reforms will lead to increased demand for health services among young people (although whether they will have access is another matter…)

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Welfare changes are a recipe for poor health

Vanessa Rose writes:

Public health campaigners are rightly concerned about the impact of proposed co-payments on people’s health but other budget changes could be just as damaging to health.

Proposed welfare reforms, targeting unemployed young people under the age of 30 and restricting Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance to only six months of each year, may push an already vulnerable group further toward the margins.

There is a strong causal link between unemployment and poor mental and physical health.

Once out of work, and sometimes after a brief honeymoon period of increased positive feeling, people’s health deteriorates. Within months, people who are unemployed report increased stress and feelings of unhappiness; prompted by worry, financial constraint and a gradual withdrawal from social life.

In time, around 12 months or so, unemployment leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and clinical depression.

These negative health impacts are exacerbated for young people. The younger a person is when unemployed, the greater the chance of long-term unemployment and the risk they will experience serious health problems and be unable to work into the future.

Given this, what then might we expect from the budget changes to income support for young unemployed, in terms of health impact?

Some young people, frightened by the prospect of six months without income support may plump for any job, irrespective of whether it suits their skills or preferences.

This is clearly the Federal Government’s intent and is contingent on the ability of the young person to gain and maintain employment.

In this scenario, the young person’s health is likely to improve if they find the job engaging and the conditions support rapid progression.bigstockphoto_Sad_Woman_552129[1]

However, the young person’s health is likely to worsen if the work is casual and insecure. The impact of job insecurity and underemployment on mental health is almost as destructive as that of unemployment.

What about the health of those who are unable to draw income support for six months?

We should expect, as illustrated above, negative mental and physical health impacts, which will eventually manifest in health system presentations.

Young people without families or partners who can financially support them will become further marginalised from the mainstream economy.

Their skills will decay, choices for adequate food and accommodation will constrict and their mental health will erode to the point where it will act as a barrier to employment once they are again eligible for income support.

This may sound like a worst-case scenario but it is not an unexpected trajectory given the evidence.

The Federal Government has said some young jobseekers will be excluded from the reforms, including those with disabilities and significant barriers to work.

My experience in working with the employment sector over the past 15 years in improving the health of people who are unemployed is that many are poorly classified; and some who should be excluded from the six month income support hiatus will be caught up in it and placed at increased risk of developing more profound health problems.

The proposed federal budget restrictions to income support for young unemployed are a health hazard.

This article first appeared on ‘Croakey’ on 10 June 2014.

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