Evidence based investment approach to welfare reform has potential

UnitingCare Australia today welcomed the Government’s announcement of the Try, Test and Learn Fund as its first step to fundamentally reforming the welfare system.

Acting national director Martin J Cowling said the introduction of a well-researched evidenced based system offered the potential to achieve much needed system reform and improved outcomes for individuals.

“It is time for a fundamental change to how we approach disadvantage and the welfare system. Too often in the past, programs have been introduced with good intentions but little evidence to back them up. Not surprisingly, the results have been disappointing if not counter-productive.

“UnitingCare Australia believes that a well implemented Try, Test and Learn Fund offers the potential for meaningful reform and lasting improvements.

“Our services have significant experience in working with people experiencing disadvantage, including long term unemployment, and we are keen to work with Government and other stakeholders to put forward innovative solutions and employment programs and pathways.

“We welcome the Government’s recognition of the capacity and potential of the Not-For-Profit sector to make valuable contributions in this area. We look forward to being active participants in the Try, Test and Learn Fund,” Martin said.

Martin said UnitingCare Australia strongly supported the broader aims of the Australian Priority Investment Approach advocated by Government and particularly welcomed the research that underpinned the approach and the identification of those most at risk of remaining ‘stuck’ in the welfare system.

“The Priority Investment Approach identifies and targets those most at risk of long-term welfare dependency. A targeted approach is fundamental to achieving positive results in this area, as earlier approaches have tended to support those most able to help themselves and to either penalise others or let them languish.

“In identifying those most at risk we believe it is also critical to think laterally in terms of solutions, as many people in the highest risk categories experience multiple difficulties and impediments in entering the workforce, training or education.

“Our experience has demonstrated the need to be creative, nimble, patient and open-minded in responding to and overcoming these challenges. There are also many lessons to be learned from other jurisdictions, such as New Zealand, where similar reforms have met with success, but also yet to be resolved challenges.

Martin said it was important that the disadvantaged and vulnerable not be made scapegoats.

“Poverty and inequality are not life choices. While evidence based programs are an essential element of welfare provision, they are not in themselves sufficient to overcome long term structural problems such as multi-generational unemployment.

“This is especially the case if funding for the program is obtained by cutting funding to other vital welfare programs.

“The goal is to shift people off welfare and into a positive future, not simply to shift them off welfare,” said Martin.

Martin said the Government’s commitment to ongoing annual evaluation was a strong endorsement of its commitment to achieving tangible and sustainable outcomes across the welfare system.

“The Try, Test and Learn name is extremely apt. With a range of models likely to be put forward, the Government, the Not-For-Profits, industry stakeholder and individual participants will all be trying, testing and learning.

“Not every program will succeed, but the Government is to be applauded for embarking on a program that is willing to test new and innovative approaches and to use sound evaluation techniques to measure their effectiveness,” he said.

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