Don't look down: unemployed people are not the enemy

REMEMBER THIS: The truth is, people experiencing unemployment are just like everyone else. Picture: Shutterstock
REMEMBER THIS: The truth is, people experiencing unemployment are just like everyone else. Picture: Shutterstock

Honestly, there are days where I feel that I should just quit social media. Hang up the keyboard and dust my hands off.

Seeing the harsh responses on socials to people experiencing unemployment, that levy individualised judgement and unhelpful "solutions" - like "there are plenty of jobs out there, you just have to look!" - make me wonder if I'm fighting an uphill battle.

But while pressing the power button on the PC might make my life less stressful, it doesn't solve the problem.

It's been heart-warming to see a slow change in the tides of judgement across an increasing number of people in our national community with regards to their opinion of those experiencing unemployment. But we have a long way to go with the way in which we engage with each other.

I think COVID-19 has certainly hit home the fact that we are all just one crisis away from joining their ranks.

But even with this slow increase of empathy, it's apparent that we don't know how to have this conversation with others in the public space.

We still see old stigma and stereotypes rearing their heads despite the individual's determination to express their lack of intention to offend.

RUOK? extends to all vulnerable people on all days of the year, and we need to keep this responsibility in the forefront of our mind when engaging with people doing it tough and perhaps reaching out for help or sharing their experience.

We need to remember that, first and foremost, people experiencing unemployment are people just like everyone else with skills, experience, strengths, knowledge and value.

Just because a person may not currently have a job title, does not mean that these things fly out the window.

Not to get too philosophical or political on you, but the perception that the government and Centrelink does not trust or respect welfare recipients, or consider them incapable of managing their own lives, is a by-product of the neoliberalist approach to punitive welfare public policy that has been expanding across both ALP and LNP governments for decades.

Our government's approach to welfare policy has resulted in marginalising people dependent upon it.

By "othering" those of us in this situation, we are encouraged to look down on and judge them as drivers of their own destiny and thus responsible for their troubles.

Need I remind you of the political headlines across Australian newspapers calling people "dole bludgers" or "the taxed-nots"?

We are pushed into pigeon holes, categorised by our economic value to the community and this productivist approach even further scrutinises us to separate the "deserving" and the "undeserving" poor.

We stand by and let "the powerful in our society take a tough line in respect of alleged welfare dependency," as Dr Mike Dee's research in 2013 underlined in his article Welfare Surveillance, Income Management and New Paternalism in Australia.

By allowing these powerful people to hammer home the idea that we need to be tough on those doing it rough, we are letting them get away with eschewing their ethical obligation to the very society that facilitated their rise to power.

As Bauman pointed out, this approach allows the powerful to deny the fact that those who struggle rely on those who don't for jobs, for economic stability, for social wellbeing, and in doing so, makes society a wholly one-sided affair.

You have to have a go, to get a go: possibly my most hated phrase of the Morrison government's branding showbag.

The point being, of course, that the neoliberalism underpinnings to public policy deny the obligation of those with the jobs to give them a go at all. It's not surprising that we find our culture taking a hard line on people in this boat, when we are taught that that's the thing to do.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt, a chance, genuine employment support and the empowerment to rebuild themselves is just not on the agenda.

So, I challenge you. When you see a post about someone experiencing unemployment, I challenge you to cast aside the neoliberal shroud we have all been burdened with and see them as the valuable individual that they are.

Maybe they aren't OK. But together, we can help them be OK again.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au

This story Don't look down: unemployed people are not the enemy first appeared on The Canberra Times.