The welfare arm of the Hillsong Church will be the biggest non-government provider of services to unemployed people in NSW under a new Federal Government welfare-to-work program.
Hillsong Emerge will be paid by the Federal Government to counsel people who are stripped of their unemployment payment for eight weeks under tough rules that came into effect on July 1.
The biggest charities have refused to take part in the program to “financially case manage” the most vulnerable unemployed, including sole parents and disabled people, who will be left without income.
Hillsong Emerge registered to carry out the work and was approved to service clients referred by Centrelink offices in some of Sydney’s most disadvantaged suburbs. These cover Baulkham Hills, Blacktown, Redfern, St Marys and Mount Druitt, where the greatest number of social security penalties have been imposed.
Because of the boycott by the big charities, unemployed people and parents with dependent children in most parts of Sydney and NSW will have to be managed by Centrelink officers. Only 13 other small organisations, mostly regional neighbourhood centres, have been registered.
A spokesman for the Welfare Rights Centre, Gerard Thomas, said many people might be reluctant to be sent by Centrelink to a welfare agency associated with an evangelical church. Hillsong Emerge, under other names, has provided welfare services since 1989, and has previously won Federal Government contracts.
Its chief executive, Leigh Coleman, addressed a public meeting in Waterloo last November of citizens concerned about the possible blurring of its welfare and evangelical work.
He admitted some of its volunteer “street teams” may have overstepped the boundaries, but its professional workers did not.
It was stripped of a $414,479 federal grant this year amid claims it obtained the funds by deceiving the Aboriginal community that was supposed to be a beneficiary.
About 18,000 people a year are expected to lose their benefit for eight weeks for infringing job search rules, compared with about 3800 a year under the old rules.
About 4000 of the most vulnerable who lose their benefits, the Government says, will be eligible to be case-managed.
The Government will pay charities $650 to manage each eligible unemployed person it assigns to them. It wants charities to assess the person’s essential expenses and notify Centrelink, which would then decide whether to pay the bills.
Most charities strongly oppose the policy of stripping all income from unemployed people as morally unjustifiable.