Driving the Poor to Suicide

A while back I wrote a long post on the insanity of the Newstart system, which seems to have been deliberately designed to humiliate those who use it. At the time when I was going through these experiences I often thought that someone should do a study on the relationship between suicide rates and increased bureaucratic bullying of recipients.

It turns out that pretty much at the time someone was doing something rather similar. This research, showing that suicides are higher when the Coalition (and Conservatives in the UK) are in government does not just look at those who were receiving welfare, but it is a pretty safe conclusion that they would account for much of the increase.

Many would consider this something to consider when exercising your vote (or at least your preference between the majors). Unfortunately, for quite a few Liberal Party voters the suicides of more welfare recipients would be feature, not a bug.

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About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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3 Responses to Driving the Poor to Suicide

  1. Jason says:

    Hi Stephen,

    I remember reading your post on Newstart some time ago and I managed to stumble back here. I hope your circumstances have improved since then.

    If you believe it – I have a friend on Newstart who actually blames the progressive parties for his unemployment and intends to vote for the Coalition!

    It is high time we returned to having 0% unemployment as a policy goal; rather than deliberately creating a pool of vulnerable people for dodgy businesses to exploit.

    Your comment on bureaucratic processes and suicide is a good one. I’m aware that desperation and the feeling of being unable to influence one’s circumstances is a contributing factor to suicide. If the Department of Human Services are coddling – rather than empowering job seekers – then we have serious problems.

    Good luck Stephen!

  2. Thanks Jason,

    My circumstances have certainly improved a lot since the time I wrote about in the Newstart post. I still have less work than I would ideally like, but I have not needed government support since 2004.

    I’m not sure how realistic a goal 0% is – there are always going to be people transitioning from one job to another, but if unemployment was 2% pretty much everyone who was unemployed would be confident there was a job around the corner for them. However, these days I suspect the larger problem is underemployment – people working one day a week who really want and need more work but do not count in the official unemployment statistics. At first that one day gives a sense of hope and makes people feel like they are doing something useful, but if nothing more comes, after a while it doesn’t feel a lot better than not working at all, and there are probably more people in that situation in Australia than those who are completely unemployed.

    Stephen

  3. Evan says:

    I think research of this kind for Australia is sorely needed. A couple of years ago there was a case in Bunbury WA where a middle aged woman who had worked her whole life after visiting Centrelink and being abused went home and committed suicide.

    Some experience I have had with Mission Australia – After telling them I had to miss an appointment, travelling to spend time with my dying father, I had my allowance stopped. Two months Iater I explained I needed to organise his funeral and the same thing happened again. We have a crime and punishment model, a provincial culture underpinned by occupational identity – this is a big reason we have such a high youth suicide rate – An antidote to this I believe would be the removal of the punitive measures and the introduction of incentive based system – half of benefits being loaned as a living wage and repaid in a HECS like system and half mutual obligation 6 hrs per week for not for profit, skills, resume etc and an increase in the amount you can earn. Many of my friends like myself have a hecs debt, they tend to reel back in horror at the suggestion but people who are unable to psychologically cope with the system are ending up on the streets or worse.

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