Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Students Deserve More

As the day that Australian students receive an extra $950 into their bank accounts under the Australian Government’s stimulus package and the day that students around Australia take a National Day of Action calling for an increase in student income support, I thought it would be appropriate to have a discussion on the issue of Youth Allowance and the welfare state in general.

I think it’s important to start a discussion on Youth Allowance with a little picture of the sort of society that I would like to live in. Here are a couple of points regarding the sort of society I would like to live in (obviously there are more, but these are the ones that relate most to the welfare state):

  1. A society where people work collectively to support each other when times are more difficult for one particular person or group, with a general expectation that in a time of trouble this support would be returned if the same sorts of situations were reversed.
  2. A society where working 50 to 60 hours a week is not considered a thing that has to be done and, unless someone makes an active choice to do so, is avoided. (The reason behind this is that I do not see the point of constant economic growth and increasing prosperity if a society cannot enjoy it. I would much rather have a society that is not as wealthy, but enjoys its wealth, than a society that is extremely prosperous but is stuck spending all its time working with the aim to become more prosperous just for the sake of it. In the end, I think it becomes pointless.

Now, I would like to add, that believing in these principles does not make me someone who ‘expects everything served to me on a plate’ as I have been accused of before. Instead it makes me someone who believes in a compassionate society where people care about each other and are willing to support one another in different periods of each other’s lives, whether it is a time of study or a time of crisis.

Students:

Given these assumptions one can quickly guess that I am very much in support in increase income support for students. The current income support levels for students lay well below the poverty line, which means that students tend to be forced to work a minimum 20 hours a week whilst studying full time. For example, I myself worked 27 hours a week last year (noting that I am studying overseas this year and can’t work) whilst studying an equivalent full time level. Assuming that a full time level of study equals approximately 30 hours (this includes class time, reading time, research time, study time, paper writing time etc.) I was undertaking an approximate 60 hours worth of work a week. This is not an unusual case for students, who are now faced with a situation of either letting their studies begin to slip or letting their ability to afford rent slip. It is obvious that something needs to be done about this situation and increase income support is definitely the answer that I believe is the most suitable. An increase in income support is a simple and fair way of letting students finish their studies in a timely and affective manner to the best of their ability.

Now, I think before I finish it is best to counter some of the responses I tend to get when I argue such a point. First, is the obvious ‘this just adds another group of bludgers who are bludging off the tax system’. Now, whilst I agree that to some level people do take advantage of our welfare system in an unfair way, I strongly believe that this group is largely overrepresented within our mainstream media and that the large of majority of people who receive payments from Centrelink do so in an honest way. Second, I have a major problem with this idea of people who are receiving Centrelink payments as being ‘bludgers’. I think there tend to be two types of people who receive Centrelink payments; people who are in a serious situation and require serious help (people who cannot find work, victims of natural disasters etc.) and people who are in a transition phase where working a full time job is untenable (i.e. students). None of these people sound like bludgers to me!

The second rebuttal I normally receive is that ‘working just prepares students for the real world’. Whilst I agree that working is a good idea for students as it gains good experience (in fact I would probably continue to work a little bit even if income support was increased) I have a serious problem with living in a ‘real world’ that forces people to work a minimum 50 hours a week and up to 60 – 70 hours a week. Acknowledging that this is the current ‘real world’, I understand this sort of response. However, I will continue to respond with ‘why do we want to live in a real world where people are forced to work 50-70 hours a week to gain wealth that they will never enjoy?’ I think we should be working towards a society where people can enjoy their wealth and where unlimited growth and profit drops below happiness as one of our major societal goals.

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March 24, 2009 - Posted by | Options for a Progressive Future |

2 Comments »

  1. A degree is worth an average of $1.5m in higher wages, let alone the status, health, and personal satisfaction value. If they get over their short term cash flow issues, students do just fine in the long run. That’s what we should focus on: those who should be attending uni, but can’t (or can’t study) because they don’t have access to cash in the short term.

    I don’t feel sorry for Australian university students compared to other groups who aren’t rich (yet).

    Like these guys: http://www.kiva.org/

    They could use that money a whole lot more than Aussie students.

    Think about the opportunity cost!

    Comment by Robert | March 27, 2009 | Reply

    • Robert,
      I agree with you. Our focus should be on ensuring that all people have the ability to attend university whether they have access to short term cash reserves or not and the best way to do this is to provide an increased level of help from the Government in the form of Centrelink.
      Second, my dicsussion wasn’t saying that students were necesserily a ‘special case’ of non-rich people who should get more than others. Instead, I was trying to use students as a good example of one group of people who require a better Centrelink service. Therefore, I also agree there are a lot of people who also deserve an increased level of support and I don’t believe that increase student support should come at the cost of supporting others.
      Lastly, I find your last comment ‘think about the opportunity cost’ really interesting. For me, that signifies that we should only be be ‘investing’ in people when there is a greater opportunity that they will create more wealth for society in the long run. I have a problem with also assuming that ‘society’ needs to get something back from helping others as it creates a very selfish world that refuses to help people who may simply need help. I think we should not be ‘thinking of the opportunity cost’ but rather thinking about the way we can help people who need it. Not everything needs to have something returned.

      Comment by simon2013 | March 29, 2009 | Reply


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