Stream A, no matter how you cut it, is not an adequate investment for people who are long-term unemployed, straight out of prison, homeless, with diagnosed mental health conditions, with drug and alcohol addiction—you name it.
This chapter examines the assessment and streaming process of jobactive participants. The chapter is structured according to the following topics:
Overview of assessment and streaming
Effectiveness of the assessment process
Services and support for participants are discussed in Chapter 5.
The committee's recommendations are set out at the end of the chapter.
Overview of assessment and streaming
The support available for jobactive participants depends on the assessed relative disadvantage of the participant. As noted in Chapter 3, the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (JSCI) is a statistical assessment tool used to measure the capacity and needs of jobactive participants. Ms Janine Pitt, Group Manager, Activation and Work for the Dole, from the Department of Jobs and Small Business, explained that the JSCI examines the 'relative possibility of people finding work'. According to the Department, the tool is not intended to identify the specific assistance a person might need to get a job.
The JSCI assessment is conducted by Centrelink on first contact with income support applicants. If a person's circumstances change after completing the JSCI, their circumstances can be reassessed. The classification process is often done over the phone, and usually takes about five minutes. If the JSCI identifies that a person may have multiple/complex barriers to employment, the person may need to complete an Employment Services Assessment (ESAt). The ESAt is used to refer people to jobactive Stream C or Disability Employment Services.
Based on their assessed relative disadvantage, jobactive participants are placed into one of three streams of service:
Stream A job seekers are the most job-ready. These job seekers can access services to help them understand what employers want and how to navigate the local labour market, build a résumé, look for jobs and learn how to access self-help facilities.
Stream B job seekers need their jobactive provider to play a greater role to help them become job-ready and are referred to case management support.
Stream C job seekers have a combination of work capacity and personal issues that need to be addressed so that they can take up and keep a job.
Currently, 38 per cent of the caseload are Stream A participants, 43 per cent are Stream B, and 17 per cent are Stream C. Volunteer Stream A participants make up one percent of the caseload.
Effectiveness of the assessment process
The committee received substantial evidence that participants were not being streamed accurately under jobactive. If participants are inaccurately assessed, they are unlikely to receive the support that they need. According to jobactive providers Matchworks and ESG, often it is the most disadvantaged participants that are streamed incorrectly.
Submitters were particularly concerned about the increasing number of 'hard to place' participants in Stream A. The committee heard that 40 per cent of Stream A participants are long-term unemployed. A person is considered long-term unemployed if they are unemployed for 12 months or more. Additionally, 25 per cent of Stream A participants are very long-term unemployed. A person is classified as very long-term unemployed if they are unemployed for 2 years or more. As noted by the National Employment Services Association (NESA), a significant proportion of Stream A participants have 'complex issues such as (but not limited to) homelessness, mental health, refugee status and recently released prisoners'. Yet Stream A 'is designed to assist job seekers that have a high level of independence providing a very basic level of assistance'.
Ms Janine Pitt from the Department of Jobs and Small Business outlined to the committee why people with significant barriers might end up in Stream A:
…we do get feedback that there are often quite hard-to-place people who find themselves in stream A, and that can be for a whole range of reasons. An example of that might be there might be somebody who is an ex‑offender who is in stream A, but that ex-offender might have a university degree, be in a labour market in the city and have their own car. Because of that particular individual's skills, they'll end up in stream A versus a different stream.
However a number of stakeholders considered that the JSCI assessment tool is flawed, even if it is considered to be operating 'correctly'. Jesuit Social Services submitted that the standardised assessment can 'fail to capture the nuances and depth of disadvantage that is often experienced by jobseekers'. Similarly, NESA contended that the outcomes of the JSCI indicate that the tool is not fit for purpose:
The fact that a newly released prisoner, a person experiencing homelessness or mental health issues, or a newly arrived refugee subject to trauma and torture can be ‘correctly’ allocated to Stream A should demonstrate that the tool and/or its settings is not identifying disadvantage in the manner in which the community would expect.
The committee heard that the assessment process relies on self-disclosure. Ms Janine Pitt explained that the accuracy of the JSCI relies on people disclosing information. Stakeholders noted that this factor can hamper accurate streaming. For example, the Public Service Research Group at UNSW Canberra submitted that participants may not understand the ramifications of non-disclosure:
…current processes raise important questions about some jobseekers’ capacity to understand the ramifications of disclosure or non-disclosure in their assessment (for example in cases of cognitive impairment, undiagnosed disability, language and literacy issues, or substance use issues) and about accountability and duty of care to vulnerable citizens from the state’s end. Those with the most to lose in terms of mutual obligation for income support are the least equipped to navigate the assessment process.
Mr Jeremy Poxon, a jobactive participant, described how his experience of being assessed was not conducive to self‑disclosure of his personal issues:
I entered jobactive three years ago while undergoing therapy for suicidal depression… I was streamed by somebody who I had never met and, let's be honest, probably wouldn't be comfortable opening up to about those kinds of very personal issues I was having.
I was streamed directly into the stream A category, deemed ultimately fit for work and all 50 hours a fortnight of mutual obligations.
Mr Poxon suggested that it was not possible to understand somebody's barriers, including psychological barriers, under the current streaming process. In this regard, NESA commented that it 'is not surprising that many job seekers do not disclose barriers until they have entered services and form trust with their consultant'. NESA observed that fear may discourage some participants from speaking about their personal issues:
For some job seekers, fear about having details of their disadvantage recorded in a government system is overwhelming.
The committee heard that as the profile of jobactive participants becomes more disadvantaged, a greater proportion of participants receive inadequate service. Ms Annette Gill, Principal Policy Advisor for NESA, suggested that the true purpose of the JSCI is a rationing tool:
As concentration of disadvantage increases amongst the people left on unemployment, more people—the same percentage—just get pushed in there. It's a rationing tool; it's not an assessment tool.
In its submission, NESA contends that the JSCI scoring and thresholds are 'set and are amended to contain or reduce expenditure'. Figure 4.1 depicts the proportion of participants in each stream since July 2015. Australia's unemployment rate was 6.3 per cent in July 2015.
Figure 4.1: Proportion of caseload by Stream
Source: Department of Jobs and Small Business, answers to questions on notice, 6 December 2018 (received 2 January 2019), p. 2.
Submitters broadly supported making improvements to the assessment process. For example, NESA emphasised that the employment services sector supports the need for 'accurate assessment and streaming' to 'ensure an adequate and quality service'. According to the Centre for Policy Development, improving the assessment process 'requires the right set of questions, capable systems and experienced staff to assess need'.
During the inquiry, stakeholders emphasised that re-assessment of participants was difficult and was not done in a timely fashion, meaning many participants remain underserviced. NESA explained that there are a number of restrictions on re-assessment:
The controls imposed on completing a change of circumstance including requirements for documentary evidence verifying the job seeker’s circumstance often results in service eligibility remaining inadequate.
The committee received evidence that there can be delays in appointments for an ESAt, which is used to refer job seekers to jobactive Stream C or Disability Employment Services. The Community and Public Sector Union informed the committee that its members report that there can be delays in participants undergoing an ESAt:
ESATs appointments are a rarity, therefore, if a customer has a possible medical barrier, which needs to be determined to reduce the standard obligated requirement or obtain an exemption, it will not be completed within a reasonable time frame.
This point was supported by yourtown, who advised that there were 'lengthy delays' to obtain an ESAt appointment due to a lack of available appointment times at Centrelink. Yourtown also informed the committee that due to current contractual restrictions they were generally not able to update a JSCI for Stream A clients:
…current guidelines advise that Providers can only update a Stream A (or B) JSCI prior to 6 months of service if a Targeted Compliance Framework Capability Assessment is conducted by the Provider after 3 demerit points have been applied to the client’s record AND the client then discloses factors / changes that can be updated in ESS [Employment Services System] JSCI. Prior to this, the client must be referred back to DHS [Department of Human Services] for any updates. In other words, a Provider can only update the record prior to 6 months if the client is in a demerit compliance situation.
Future assessment and streaming
In the discussion paper for the future of employment services, the government acknowledged that the comprehensiveness of the assessment process could be improved. The Employment Services 2020 Report by the Employment Services Expert Advisory Panel recommends a three staged assessment process, covering individual needs, goals, strengths, barriers and digital and career literacy. The three stages would be a pre-screen, comprehensive upfront assessment and follow-on assessment:
First stage: assessment to see if a job seeker is job-ready and can self‑service online. If so, job seeker enters digital first and moves to the third stage of assessment.
Second stage: comprehensive assessment to decide the most appropriate level of services. Job seeker enters digital first, digital plus or enhanced services.
Third stage: in-depth assessment of skills, capabilities and needs, to personalise services they will receive while in the system.
According to the Advisory Panel, the assessment would identify participants that may require help to use digital services and connect them to training. Reassessments would occur over time and when a participant's circumstances change.
The committee is very concerned around inaccurate streaming of participants under jobactive. The committee notes that the assessment process determines the level of assistance that employment services participants will receive. Therefore the committee considers that it is crucial that participants are assessed correctly. In this regard, the committee strongly supports making the assessment process more comprehensive. Additionally, the committee is of the view that the government should investigate how it can better encourage people to disclose personal barriers and make it easier for participants to move between different levels of service.
The committee remains concerned about the potential for incorrect assessment to continue under the future system proposed by the Expert Panel. The committee is also concerned that the government will push people who have difficulty using digital services into training on how to use the services, rather than providing them with more appropriate assistance. The committee considers this approach could be particularly problematic for refugee participants, including those with limited English, who are often inappropriately assessed as 'job ready'. The committee considers that participants should always have an option to opt-out of digital services.
The committee recommends that the government investigate how it can better encourage people to disclose personal barriers and make it easier for participants to move between different levels of service.
The committee recommends that employment services participants with mutual obligations should have the right to opt out of online self-servicing and instead receive direct services from their employment services provider.