Work for the dole has been an expensive "demonstrable failure" that does nothing to lessen the nation's unemployment burden, one of Australia's biggest charities has said.
The St Vincent de Paul Society is part of a growing chorus from Australia's social services sector criticising the "punitive" scheme, which it says is at risk of creating "a class of working poor" while doing nothing to create sustained employment.
The Expenditure Review Committee had discussed scrapping the controversial program, but the budget razor gang quickly backed away from the proposal, with the government now backing in its support for the $648 million scheme.
That disappointed those within the charity and social services sector, who have lobbied the government to dump the Tony Abbott-led policy, which they said did little to solve the unemployment problem.
"I think there is clear evidence - including the governments own evaluation of the program - that shows that the scheme neither builds the skills of participants nor improves their job prospects," national policy advisor for the St Vincent de Paul Society, Corinne Dobson said.
"From our perspective we see the scheme as punitive, as demonising the unemployed and as being an expensive failure."
A government-commissioned review of the program found the chances of a participant finding a job because of the scheme improved by just 2 per cent, although the majority of participants reported a positive experience.
Ms Dobson said the money used for the scheme would be better spent in vocational education or job creation, which would more likely lead to meaningful employment.
"The reality is, there's many more people who are unemployed than they are job vacancies - there is scope for programs that are supporting people to build their skills and to overcome particular barriers [but] the real issue is a shortage of jobs," she said. "We need to be looking at that rather than blaming people and assuming it is their own fault that they can't find employment, which seems to be the underlying assumption in programs like work for the dole."
Anglicare Australia's Job Availability Snapshot, released late last year, found there were at least six job seekers for every job ad, a figure which jumped to nine in South Australia and 10 in Tasmania.
In its pre-budget submission, it also pleaded for the government to ditch work for the dole and invest in training, restructuring vocational education if necessary, to ensure getting a job was the primary goal.
"The common assertion then that there are jobs out there for everyone is ill-founded," it reported, while the Australian Council of Social Service said the experience participants received under the program "is usually far removed from paid employment opportunities".
"If, on the other hand, they were engaged in regular productive employment, then participants should be paid the legal wage," ACOSS said in its submission.
"It is not reasonable to require people to join a program that will not improve their job prospects, especially where it involves working for less than the minimum wage - as is the case for those required to work for benefits for 25 hours a week."