ON THE DOLE: More people stuck in cycle of dependence
LOSING everything he ever worked for "like a cloud of smoke" was a kick in the guts Trent Wilkinson is still trying to recover from.
When Mr Wilkinson lost his job at Defiance Maize Mill in 2016, he entered a cycle of long-term dole dependence affecting an growing cohort of Southern Downs residents.
Figures obtained from the Department of Human Services reveal the pool of people on long-term unemployment benefits has almost tripled in the region.
Since 2013, the number of Southern Downs residents who have received Newstart payment for a continuous period of five years or more has increased from 86 to 228.
Relying on government welfare was never a long-term plan for 32-year-old Mr Wilkinson, but mental health issues have kept him entrenched in a cycle of unemployment.
"When I lost my job it seemed like everything just went bang... you definitely lose a lot of confidence when that happens," he said.
"I wasn't feeling the best and I didn't feel capable of getting myself motivated to get out there and do it."
Since then, he has struggled to meet the requirements of his job seeker plan.
He said the rise in long-term dole reliance was a reflection of broader society.
"I look at people in a similar situation to myself and everyone has a problem somewhere along the line - whether it is mental health or something.
"There are social problems going on that make people unable to participate in the workforce."
Despite his charisma and capabilities, Mr Wilkinson said people were often unable to look past the stigma surrounding welfare dependence.
"People will put you on a lower social status. It is something you really try and avoid in conversation," he said.
But Mr Wilkinson said many unemployed people worked in an informal sense.
Far from the "dole bludger" stereotype, Mr Wilkinson said unemployed people often worked in an informal sense.
Fifty-four-year-old Warwick resident Roy Newmann has been on Centrelink benefits since he was 16, and spends his days fixing trailers.
Mr Newmann said the life-long cycle of unemployment was perpetuated by poverty.
"I spent every single pay cheque looking for work," he said.
Travelling to Cairns on the hunt for a job, every cent Mr Newmann received from Centrelink went towards securing employment as a welder.
"If you don't have the money for fuel or you spend your whole time looking for something to eat how are you going to find work," he said.
Transferring from Newstart to the age pension, Mr Newmann said he could not see an end to the cycle of dependence.
But a younger Mr Wilkinson said individuals should take responsibility for their circumstances.
"I have responsibilities like any adult," he said.
"I suppose I sort of am in this situation because of my own issues and I definitely want to get off Centrelink in the long term."