EXCLUSIVE: It’s the deeply shameful secret Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government won’t talk about and doesn’t want you to know. Yet the details are all there hidden in official statistics and expert research: that Australia’s national suicide rate is heavily linked to unemployment and the fear of ending up on Centrelink. It’s the tragic tale of how a welfare system became a “mental illness factory”. Serkan Ozturk investigates.
This article discusses suicide at length. If you need help, contact:
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
The hundreds of dead bodies in the wake of the illegal and fraudulent Robodebt scheme first dreamt up by now-Prime Minister Scott Morrison was when the genie well and truly got out of the bottle. A sick truth – long-hidden – underlying Australian economics and employment was now getting harder to conceal. Ironically, it was because the system was doing exactly what it has been designed to.
With each punitive measure taken against the unemployed and the wider welfare system over the last 30 years by governments of various ideologies and hues, it has become clear to see that the gaslighting, the infantilisation, the hothousing, the needless tick-a-box exercises, the pointlessness and helplessness of it all is designed for one thing: to break you down.
And it has worked. But, only too well.
This is the tragic tale of how a welfare system has become a mental illness factory. And left thousands of the dead in its wake. That’s dead dreams. Dead hopes. Dead people.
In 2019, at the height of the Robodebt scandal that will forever be a stain on the Australian Government’s conscience, official statistics show that almost 8% of all suicides that year were linked to “problems related to employment and unemployment”. A total of 3,318 suicides were recorded in 2019. In 2020, it was 3,139 suicides.
It must also be noted that suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 15-44 in Australia.
True Crime News Weekly can further reveal that figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that being unemployed or not in the labour force provide the largest risk for suicide in this country apart from just only three other identifiers, that of being male and either being never married or being widowed.
When those same official statistics are altered to reflect results only for men, “not being in the labour force” is the biggest clear risk of suicide.
Charts from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show being unemployed or not in the labour force are some of the most dangerous risk factors for suicide in Australia (Image: / Supplied)
A study published in the prestigious MJA in August 2020 meanwhile found that unemployment alone is associated with a two‐to threefold increased relative risk of death by suicide compared with being employed.
Other evidence shows that unemployed males are around 4.6 times more likely to take their own lives than employed males, lending credence that there is significant correlation between the factors.
Moreover, research shows that between 2001-2010, “economically inactive/unemployed males had over four times the suicide rates of employed males, whereas suicide rates of economically in-active/unemployed females were eight times higher than those of employed females”.
Many welfare recipients, and particularly those on JobSeeker, who are just holding on are all too aware of what they are up against.
“As a Centrelink recipient, I am crystal clear that the amount of effort I have to put in to gain income that is insufficient to live off of, and is withdrawn without explanation every time you turn your back, is (not may be, but IS) a significant mental health risk,” one woman told True Crime News Weekly.
One mum explained how her son had almost been driven to his death by the welfare merry-go-round.
“My son has now been allocated a case worker / liaison worker / social worker since telling Centrelink he was suicidal,” the mother said.
“He has finally been granted a DSP after months of trying and during that time Centrelink never stopped hassling him, even though they knew he had applied.”
It is a Kafkaesque nightmare. An uncaring bureaucratic Weberian web designed to destroy the soul and spirit. Those who become enmeshed in the system know soon enough its main aim is to line the pockets of privatised job network providers. High-flyers like Sarino Russo. Sending injured or ill people to menial dead-end jobs is a favourite ploy.
Others meanwhile were grateful for the respite a pandemic gave them from their daily struggles. With a Covid supplement payment lifting the rate of welfare payments to the unemployed to something akin to a living wage during 2020. At about $1,100 a fortnight for singles, those on JobSeeker could finally in a long time afford to pay rent in Australia’s cities and regional centres without forgoing other basic necessities.
“As someone on Centrelink, it was cathartic for a while being able to live affordably,” one welfare recipient remarked.
“Suicide attempts didn’t work for me so I’m trying to adapt to having to survive. I’m looking forward to seeing the ‘elite powers’ create a world that keeps us ‘happily’ keeping them in clover.”
It is likely that the suicide rate slightly dropped during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to increased income support for the unemployed and others on welfare, as well as a “we’re in this together” attitude that scientific research has shown develops in times of mass unemployment. The pandemic and the associated economic problems that came with it had helped create one of Australia’s highest ever periods of unemployment.
ScoMo’s Government Silent On Suicide Shame
True Crime News Weekly contacted the Federal Government for comment for this story after sharing some of our key findings and research.
We had first contacted Senator Anne Ruston, who is Minister for Families and Social Services. Her spokesperson palmed us off.
“Minister [Linda] Reynolds, as the Minister for Government Services is responsible for the questions you have asked,” Ruston’s spokesperson said.
When we forwarded on our request to Minister Reynolds, we never heard back. She may have been too busy steam cleaning a couch.
Steam clean of truth: Senator Linda Reynolds wouldn’t answer our questions after being presented with our research despite being the Minister for Government Services (Image: Wikipedia / Supplied)
When we first contacted Services Australia to ask whether they had any comment to make about suicide seemingly becoming a key part of Australia’s welfare system, the bureaucrats behind Centrelink tried to play coy.
“We understand from liaising with the Australian Bureau of Statistics … that their Causes of Death data does not provide specific personal information, such as whether a person was receiving a social security payment,” a spokesperson said.
An ABS spokesperson also told True Crime News Weekly: “ABS Causes of Death data does not provide specific personal information such as whether a person was a recipient of financial support from the Federal Government, so it’s not possible for us to make any comment on your request”.
However, when provided with more of our research, a spokesperson for Services Australia then said they “help people facing difficult situations every day” and that Centrelink had “a large national network of social workers and specialist staff to assist people in vulnerable or complex circumstances”.
The spokesperson then added: “Our social workers can provide short term counselling and referrals to other services, including mental health supports, to help people access the support they need”.
It begs the question: Why would such “a large national network of social workers and specialist staff” be required if Centrelink wasn’t a real leading cause for suicides across Australia?
From Robodebt To Royal Commission
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government continue to act as if the deaths of thousands from suicide aren’t important and don’t require any comment, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten was all too happy to speak with True Crime News Weekly.
The Shadow Minister for Government Services is leading a campaign for a royal commission into the debacle that was Robodebt should Labor win this weekend’s federal election.
“We should not be surprised that aggressive and inaccurate debt-collecting with the full power of the state behind it can take a tragic toll on young Australian adults,” Shorten said.
“Robodebt is a prime example of this where multiple parents have told of their adult children taking their lives because of out of control automated debt collection – but the Government still refuses to acknowledge that their stories are true.”
Bill Shorten: Wants a royal commission into the illegal Robodebt scheme that cost the lives of hundreds of welfare recipients to suicide (Image: Supplied)
Shorten said it “is sad” that the “creators of the illegal Robodebt scheme” refuse to admit the damage they have caused.
“But to deny the lived experience of grieving mothers is a new low for dehumanised bureaucracy and a blight on responsible government,” the Labor MP told True Crime News Weekly.
Shorten however would not answer our questions on whether the Labor Party also held itself responsible for the current state of affairs following more than 30 years of largely bipartisan agreement on gutting help for the unemployed.
The Greens told True Crime News Weekly they will also be pushing for a royal commission into the horrors unleashed by Robodebt.
“The Government knew of the scale of the harm caused by Robodebt, yet they chose to continue debt collection. They must be held accountable for inflicting unnecessary pain on thousands of Australians,” Senator Janet Rice, the Greens spokesperson for Community Services, said.
“It took a federal court case to stop this mess. And even after the program was found illegal, the government dragged its feet for six months before rectifying the harm caused by committing to repay the money it had already collected and cancel remaining debts.
When contacted, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) said the research was overwhelmingly clear that inadequate income support payments lead to, and exacerbate, poor mental health largely because people are in such severe financial stress.
“When income support payments were doubled in 2020, the benefit for people was hard to overstate – people were able to go to bed at night knowing they could afford three meals the next day,” Charmaine Crowe, ACOSS Program Director for Social Security, told True Crime News Weekly.
“Our surveys have consistently found that people lose their social connections when they receive JobSeeker because they cannot afford a coffee with a friend or travel to see family.
“Lifting income support payments to above the poverty line, as well as boosting Rent Assistance by 50% not only ensures people can cover the basics, but it also improves mental health and wellbeing across the community.”
True Crime News Weekly also sought comment from the likes of mental health organisations such as Beyondblue and Orygen as well as the National Suicide Prevention Adviser for this story.
Although none of the above bodies disputed our research when it was presented, all said that relevant representatives were unavailable for comment.
We hope that with the publication of this article, there will be others who will bravely speak out for the thousands of unemployed lost to suicide over the past few decades.