Ms Cilento said the exact methodology to find people at risk would need to be carefully worked out, but could use measures like low birth weight and whether a family has stable housing. CEDA stressed this data linkage approach would not be about punishment, but identifying those who would most benefit from extra supports with things such as early childhood education, schooling and community services.
“It needs to be done really, really well and it needs to be done with the right intentions,” Ms Cilento said.
Despite the federal government spending about $180 billion on welfare in 2019-20, CEDA said current approaches are not working because help is “fragmented” and “reactive”. It said the government should set up “navigators” to help people in need access the support they require, rather than having to work things out for themselves in times of crisis.
In the immediate term, CEDA said there needs to be a boost to Newstart and Commonwealth Rent Assistance, which “no longer reflect economic circumstances or community expectations”.
A growing group of MPs, business and community groups want to see Newstart raised, as it has not been increased in real terms since 1994. The Morrison government says it wants to prioritise helping people get a job instead.
Asked to comment on CEDA’s data proposal, a spokesperson for Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the government had been using a “priority investment approach” since 2016, which used actuarial analysis to estimate Australia’s future lifetime welfare costs and then develop “evidence-based” policies and “direct them where they best deliver results”.
“Australia has one of the most targeted and comprehensive welfare systems in the world and it is incumbent on the government to ensure it is sustainable into the future so it will always provide a safety net for people doing it tough.”
Labor’s spokesperson for social services, Linda Burney, described the CEDA report – which also calls for better evaluation of government programs – as “a real wake-up call for the Liberals and Nationals”.
“The Prime Minister needs to change the discussion and stop blaming his fellow Australians for the government’s economic and policy failures.”
The Australian Council of Social Service warned that “data can be used and also misused,” referring to the government’s controversial “robo-debt” scheme.
“We must embrace the possibilities that better data linkage offers, but also be alert to the risks it poses to vulnerable people and communities,” ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said.