Fri, May 12, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Australia to drug test jobless people seeking welfare

SEWAGE DATA:A trial of the rules is to be run at sites determined by tests of wastewater, which have found ‘astonishingly high’ methamphetamine use

AFP, SYDNEY

Australia is to drug test newly unemployed people as part of a crackdown on those who spend their benefits on getting high, with data from sewage used to identify hot spots to target, officials said yesterday.

Up to 5,000 jobless people will have to take the test to quality for allowances as part of a trial to address welfare-fueled substance abuse.

Benefit recipients who do not pass are to have their handouts put on a cashless debit card that they can only use for essentials such as food and accommodation.

Those who fail more than once are to be referred to medical professionals for assessment and treatment.

“We’re going to trial this with just 5,000 people and if it doesn’t work we’ll stop it and if it does work and it’s helping people, well, we’ll keep doing it,” Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison said. “We’d be silly not to.”

Australia’s unemployment rate stands at 5.9 percent, with 753,000 people out of work.

The government hopes the plan, along with docking welfare payments for people who skip job interviews or fail to attend meetings, could save taxpayers more than A$600 million (US$440 million) over the next four years.

Sewage data would be used to pinpoint three sites for the trial based on the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, which has identified “astonishingly high” rates of methamphetamine use across Australia.

Australian Minister of Social Services Christian Porter said it was about helping people have the best chance possible of getting a job.

“The 5,000-person drug testing trial is squarely aimed at identifying and assisting people and driving behavioral change,” he said. “What we think we can achieve through this is to ensure people at that absolutely critical point in their life when they’re searching for a job, engage in behaviors that assist them in that process and don’t destroy that process.”

Some welfare lobby groups have argued the approach is wrong.

“This is further demonizing of people on social security, people on the lowest incomes in the country,” Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “Another harsh welfare crackdown, compliance, it’s already really tough.”

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