By Joe Montero
The Brotherhood of St Laurence’s twelfth Life Chances report has come out and what it reveals comes as no real surprise. Australians born after 1990 are on average worse off than those who were born before this time.
Something is wrong here. A society that values its members makes a priority of ensuring that the new and coming generations are better off. The failure found by the report is a damning comment on where Australia is.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Changing today’s reality requires new priorities.
The brotherhood’s long-term study, which is following the progress of the lives of 167 individuals form diverse backgrounds, has found that besides deteriorating jobs opportunities and rising precarious employment, shrinking opportunities are all the worse because of escalation of housing costs, a lagging and punishing social security system, and a shortage of childcare.
This age bracket is relying more than ever on the family safety net to survive, which means, greater stain on the security of other age groups is also a reality in Australian society. It also adds to inequality because wealthier families are in a better position to support those who find themselves in trouble.
Behind the falling standards is an economy running out of steam and the way government policy is managing this. Failure is inevitable when neoliberalism is the only allowed game in town. This is that everything else must be sacrificed to keep big end of town investors happy, by keeping wages down, growing precarious work, and using the social security system to achieve the first two goals. The other part of neoliberalism is to cut government expenditure on services to turn over resources to the private sector.
Applied neoliberalism has proven to be harmful to the economy. It has led to de-industrialisation and therefore the decline of the real economy, to give way to financial manipulation, speculation, and non-productive economic activity across the board.
This has been the major cause of the destruction of jobs, future opportunities, and the level of support that the social security system once provided.
Making most of Australia poorer brings the added problem of falling real consumption and therefore, a shrinking market and business consequently cutting back.
Reversing the situation requires a serious break from neoliberalism and embracing the opposite.
Government policies must top the priority list with the creation of real jobs, invest in the realisation of new opportunities, and turn the social security system into being a genuine support system.
In practical terms, this means making it easier for unions to represent their members and government action to lift wages and reduce precarious work. It means a social security system that provides enough to enable participation in society and is not punitive. This is impossible unless benefits are above the minimum wage.
Sadly, none of this is taking centre stage as this year’s election approaches, which means, it is up to the rest of us to change this.