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By Malcolm Farr

May 14, 2009 12:01am

THE Federal Government is bracing for thousands of unemployed people trying to switch from the dole to the higher-paying disability allowance as the nation’s jobless figures soar, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Close to one million people will be out of work within two years, putting enormous strain on welfare.

Budget forecasts warned that by 2011 there would be about 900,000 jobless – 8.5 per cent of a workforce of about 10 million.

Coal mining unions yesterday said a further 100,000 industry jobs would be at risk if the proposed emissions trading scheme went ahead in 2011.

Despite the growing numbers and the possibility some people would be out of work for years, the Government did not deliver a Budget increase to the dole, known as the Newstart Allowance.

The single Disability Support Pension is worth $106 a week more than the single dole and the Government has made it easier to apply for.

The Budget promised $7.4 million to “provide increased assistance to new entrants” with “enhanced information and support services”.

Welfare groups said the long-term unemployed – including 300,000 at present who already have been out of work for more than two years – would make medical claims to get on the disability payment.

This could add millions of dollars to the welfare bill.

In Parliament, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey dismissed Government claims that the economic stimulus packages prevented the jobless rate going to 10 per cent.

“Isn’t it great we’ve only got 8.5 per cent unemployment? Isn’t it fantastic we’ve done so well. It could have been 10 per cent,” Mr Hockey said mockingly.

“It was 4 per cent 18 months ago and Labor is taking pride in one million being unemployed.”

And Labor’s western Sydney MP Julia Irwin, whose seat of Fowler recorded 11 per cent unemployment in January, agreed.

“I’m a bit disappointed as a Labor member that there wasn’t much in the Budget for the unemployed,” she said yesterday.

“I would have liked to have seen more in benefits for the unemployed. We’re looking at one million people over the next, probably, 12 months.”

Treasurer Wayne Swan rejected claims the Government had been harsh towards the unemployed and took a personal approach to the issue.

“I’ve spent my whole life in politics squarely focused on what we must do to ensure that all Australians have dignity in employment,” he told a National Press Club lunch.

Mr Swan said the Government had “fought for those who are retrenched or might become unemployed”, including allowances for additional training.

“There are people in my (Brisbane) community who have lost their jobs and the personal experiences that come with that impacts on family, impact on local communities and impact ultimately on the social and economic life of the nation,” he said.

“It’s something that goes to the very core of why I’m in politics.”

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union said unemployment benefits should have been raised in line with the pension increase.

“There are going to be lots of regions that will have 10 per cent unemployment,” union economic adviser Nixon Apple said.

A coalition of welfare groups – including the Australian Council of Social Service, St Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army – called on the Government to raise welfare benefits.

http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,25479097-5005941,00.html

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