Russell Skelton has an extended look at the government welfare response to the Victorian bushfires, which has, in the main, been swift, generous, and effective, and reports musings about whether some of the same methods can be applied to those who depend on welfare in other circumstances:
As Dr Ray Cleary, chief executive of the welfare agency Anglicare, described it: “For years we have been lobbying Canberra without success to get sufficient resources, less regulation and quick responses for the long-term unemployed, the disabled and the homeless. After the fires, the welfare world suddenly shifted. The fire victims were immediately and correctly deserving of our help and compassion.”
What Cleary and many others working in the social welfare sector now want to know, but are reluctant to ask, is whether aspects of the new, super-streamlined, generously funded welfare delivery system can be applied more generally for the millions of Australians dependent on society’s compassion.
While some of the ideas, notably the idea of better case management, seem plausible for wider adoption, the other key enabler of the swift response – the “super-streamlining” and especially the “generous funding”, are pretty damn unlikely to go past the current crisis, sadly.
It seems to me that the reason why “super-streamlining” was possible is that, for once, governments judged that the public were more concerned about ensuring that everybody who needed help got it, as soon as possible, rather than worrying about the possibility that some of the people receiving the aid might just be something other than totally destitute. Furthermore, the public were prepared to pay whatever it took to ensure that happened. Why? Because the victims of the fire were perceived as victims of something entirely beyond their control, whereas the recipients of welfare in normal times are often perceived otherwise.
If there is to be any tiny silver lining from this recession, perhaps it might be that there will be more compassion towards welfare recipients in general. But, given how that compassion notably faded through the 1990s (aided and abetted by the previous government, of course), I’m not holding my breath.