Unemployment benefits

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Unemployment benefits are payments made by the state or other authorized bodies to unemployed people. Benefits may be based on a compulsory para-governmental insurance system. Depending on the jurisdiction and the status of the person, those sums may be small, covering only basic needs (thus a form of basic welfare), or may compensate the lost time proportionally to the previous earned salary. They often are part of a larger social security scheme.

Unemployment benefits are generally given only to those registering as unemployed, and often on conditions ensuring that they seek work and do not currently have a job.

In some countries, a significant proportion of unemployment benefits are distributed by trade/labor unions, an arrangement known as the Ghent system.


In Argentina, successive administrations have used a variety of passive and active labor market interventions to protect workers against the consequences of economic shocks and the government's key institutional response to combat the increase in poverty and unemployment created by the crisis was the launch of an active unemployment assistance program called Plan Jefas y Jefes de Hogar Desocupados (Program for Unemployed Heads of Households).

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In Australia, social security benefits, including unemployment benefits, are funded through the income tax system. There is no compulsory national unemployment insurance fund, rather, benefits are provided for in the annual Federal Budget by the National Treasury and are administrated and distributed throughout the nation by Centrelink. Benefit rates are indexed to the Consumer Price Index and are adjusted twice a year according to the amount of underlying inflation or deflation.

There are two types of payment available to those experiencing unemployment. The first, called Youth Allowance, is paid to young people aged 16–20 (or 15, if deemed independent by Centrelink). Youth Allowance is also paid to full-time students aged 16–24, and to full-time Australian Apprenticeship workers aged 16–24. People aged below 18 who have not completed their High School education, are usually required to be in full-time education, undertaking an apprenticeship or doing training to be eligible for Youth Allowance. For single under 18 year olds living at home the basic rate is AUD$91.60 per week. For over 18 to 20 years olds living at home this increases to AUD$110.15 per week. For those aged 18–20 not living at home the rate is AUD$167.35 per week. There are special rates for those with partners and/or children.

The second kind of payment is called Newstart Allowance and is paid to unemployed people over the age of 21 and under the pension eligibility age. To get Newstart you must be unemployed, be prepared to enter into an Employment Pathway Plan (previously called an Activity Agreement) by which you agree to undertake certain activities to increase your opportunities for employment, are an Australian Resident and satisfy the income test (which limits weekly income to AUD$32 per week before benefits begin to reduce, until your income reaches AUD$397.42 per week at which point no unemployment benefits are paid) and the assets test (you can have assets of up to AUD$161,500 if you own a home before the allowance begins to reduce and $278,500 if you do not own a home). The rate of Newstart allowance as at the 12th January 2010 for single people without children is AU$228 per week, paid fortnightly. (This does not include supplemental payments such as Rent Assistance.) Different rates apply to people with partners and/or children.

The system in Australia is designed to support citizens no matter how long they have been unemployed. This has been criticized by some conservative commentators, who allege that welfare generates a 'culture of welfare dependence'. In recent years the former Coalition government under John Howard has increased the requirements of the Activity Agreement, providing for controversial schemes such as Work for the Dole, which requires that people on benefits for 6 months or longer work voluntarily for a community organization to increase their skills and job prospects. Since the Labor government under Kevin Rudd was elected in 2008, the length of unemployment before one is required to fulfil the requirements of the Activity Agreement (which has been renamed the Employment Pathway Plan) has increased from six to twelve months. There are other options available as alternatives to the Work for the Dole scheme, such as undertaking part-time work or study and training, the basic premise of the Employment Pathway Plan being to keep the welfare recipient active and involved in seeking full-time work.

For people renting their accommodation, unemployment benefits are supplemented by Rent Assistance, which, for single people as at the 12th January, 2010, begins to be paid when the weekly rent is more than AUD$49.70. Rent Assistance is paid as a proportion of total rent paid (to be precise, 75 cents in the dollar over $49.70 up to the maximum). The maximum amount of rent assistance payable is AU$55.90 per week, and is paid when the total weekly rent exceeds AU$124.24 per week. Different rates apply to people with partners and/or children, or who are sharing accommodation.

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#redirectTemplate:Dated maintenance category In Canada the system now known as Employment Insurance was formerly called Unemployment Insurance until 1996 when it was changed due to perceived negative connotations. Canadian workers pay premiums of 1.73% of insured earnings in return for benefits if they lose their jobs. Employers contribute 1.4 times the value of employee premiums. Since 1990, there is no government contribution to this fund. The amount a person receives and how long they can stay on EI varies with their previous salary, how long they were working, and the unemployment rate in their area. The EI system is managed by Service Canada, a service delivery network reporting to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Canada.

A bit over half of EI benefits are paid in Ontario and the Western provinces but EI is especially important in the Atlantic provinces, which have higher rates of unemployment. Many Atlantic workers are also employed in seasonal work such as fishing, forestry or tourism and go on EI over the winter when there is no work. There are special rules for fishermen making it easier for them to collect EI. EI also pays for maternity and parental leave, compassionate care leave, and illness coverage. The program also pays for retraining programs (EI Part II) through labour market agreements with the Canadian provinces.

An unemployment insurance program was first attempted in 1935 during the Great Depression by the government of R.B. Bennett. It was, however, ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada as unemployment was judged to be an insurance matter falling under provincial responsibility. After a constitutional amendment was agreed to by the provinces, a reference to "Unemployment Insurance" was added to the matters falling under federal authority under the Constitution Act, 1867, and the first Canadian system was adopted in 1940. Because of these problems Canada was the last major Western country to bring in an employment insurance system. It was extended dramatically by Pierre Trudeau in 1971 making it much easier to get. The system was sometimes called the 10/42, because one had to work for 10 weeks to get benefits for the other 42 weeks of the year. It was also in 1971 that the UI program was first opened up to maternity and sickness benefits, for 15 weeks in each case.

The generosity of the Canadian UI program was progressively reduced after the adoption of the 1971 UI Act. At the same time, the federal government gradually reduced its financial contribution, eliminating it entirely by 1990. The EI system was again cut by the Progressive Conservatives in 1990 and 1993, then by the Liberals in 1994 and 1996. Amendments made it harder to qualify by increasing the time needed to be worked, although seasonal claimants (who work long hours over short periods) turned out to gain from the replacement, in 1996, of weeks by hours to qualify. The ratio of beneficiaries to unemployed, after having stood at around 40 percent for many years, has recently reached close to 50% (end of 2009).[1] Many unemployed persons are not covered for benefits (e.g. the self-employed), while others may have exhausted their benefits or did not work long enough to qualify. However, it is noted that 80 percent of insured job-losers do initially receive EI benefits in Canada. The length of time one could take EI has also been cut repeatedly. The 1994 and 1996 changes contributed to a sharp fall in Liberal support in the Atlantic provinces in the 1997 election.

In 2001, the federal government increased parental leave from 10 to 35 weeks and allowed workers to take EI for compassionate care leave while caring for a dying relative. Total EI spending is projected at $22.7 billion for 2010 (figures in Canadian dollars).[2]

A significant part of the federal fiscal surplus of the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin years came from the EI system. Premiums were reduced much less than falling expenditures - producing, from 1994 onwards, EI surpluses of several billion dollars per year, which were added to general government revenue.[3] The cumulative EI surplus stood at $57 billion at March 31, 2008,[4] nearly four times the amount needed to cover the extra costs paid during a recession.[5] This drew criticism from Opposition parties and from business and labour groups, and has remained a recurring issue of the public debate. The Conservative Party, after voicing much the same criticism while in opposition,[6] chose not to recognize existing EI surpluses after being elected in 2006. Instead, the Conservative government adopted in 2008 and 2009 legislation freezing the EI surplus indefinitely and putting EI premiums on a pay-as-you-go basis, so that - starting in 2011 - they will fluctuate in line with changes in unemployment levels.[7] On December 11, 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected a court challenge launched against the federal government by two Quebec unions, who argued that EI funds had been misappropriated by the government.[8]

A slang term often used for EI is "Pogey". An example of the use of this term would be "Just keep working until you get your pogey", or "my husband is on pogey".[9]

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