According to the Australian, the Abbott government’s first budget will include tough new "learn or earn" Measures designed to force young people off the dole and into education, training or work. "One thing the government doesn’t want to do is to continue to pay people to stay at home and do nothing," a senior government source said.
There’s a sign on the wall
There’s a scene in the movie Wayne’s World where Wayne goes to a guitar store, picks up a Fender Stratocaster and starts playing Stairway to Heaven. The clerk grabs the guitar and points to sign on the wall – "No Stairway to Heaven" [video]. For decades, guitar students have been learning the song’s intro by heart and playing it to impress their friends. But guitar store staff are not impressed. They’ve heard it too many times.
If if you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last
Getting tough with young unemployed people is the politicians’ equivalent of playing Stairway to Heaven. It’s a familiar tune. In 1994 the Labor government announced a plan to abolish unemployment benefits for people under 18 in an effort to push teenagers into education and training. Then in 1997, Britain’s ‘New Labour’ government unveiled a plan to get young people off the dole and into work or training. Chancellor Gordon Brown, said that the government’s plan to "rebuild the welfare state around the work ethic." Every 18 to 25 year old unemployed for more than six months would be offered four options: a job with an employer, work with a voluntary organisation, work on the environmental task force, or full time education or training. "There will be no fifth option", said the Chancellor.
There are two paths you can go by
As opposition leader in 2004, the Australian Labor Party’s Mark Latham reduced the options to two. In his budget in reply speech he said:
Tonight I can announce that a Labor Government will create a Youth Guarantee: young Australians either in employment or education and training.
Under our policy, young people will have just two options: they can be either learning or earning. No third option of sitting around doing nothing.
We’ll provide additional work and training opportunities. And young people will be obliged to participate, to do something good for themselves, their families and the community. Learning or earning – no third option under a Labor government.
Almost immediately, Latham was accused of stealing the idea. Six teenagers from the National Youth Parliament said it was their idea. According to 18 year old Bruno Bouchet: "In my speech I said, ‘That the purpose of this bill is to ensure that young people are either learning or earning in the workforce, not simply doing nothing." The Prime Minister, John Howard, thought this was hilarious and quoted Bouchet’s words back to Latham during question time.
The "learn or earn" rhetoric returned under the Labor government’s learn or earn compact. In a 2011 speech Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: "Our Learn or Earn compact, guaranteeing every young Australian under 25 a training place if they are not already in full-time education or work." Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey said it was unlikely the government would succeed because getting unemployed people back into work would cost billions of dollars.
Last year, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested cutting benefits for under 25s. "Today it is still possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat, start claiming housing benefit and opt for a life on benefits," he said. We want to see "everyone under 25 earning or learning."
Ooh, it really makes me wonder
And here we are today. Prime Minister Tony Abbott says: “There will be an ‘earn or learn’ approach for young people … if you leave school and don’t go to university you can’t go on the dole. According to media reports, school leavers may soon face a six month waiting period before they can receive benefits.
Will politicians keep doing this forever? Or will the piper eventually lead us to reason?