It’s often said that you can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable. If the Coalition government and big business get their way, the vulnerable are about to get screwed big time, while the rich walk away with money pouring out of their pockets.

The Turnbull government is trying to push through a program of attacks on welfare recipients that will drive them further into poverty.

First, the government wants to force people on work for the dole programs to work longer hours simply to keep receiving their miserable allowance. Those aged between 30 and 60 will have to undertake 15-20 more hours working for the dole or attend dodgy training programs simply for the privilege of earning almost $200 a week less than the poverty line.

The government has worked out that about 80,000 Newstart recipients will fail to meet the target and other requirements and will be subjected to a new “demerit point” punishment scheme that will eventually force them off welfare altogether.

Second, the government wants to make it easier to dock job seekers’ allowances. Recipients failing to meet the stringent demands for appointments, work for the dole activities, training and “volunteer” placements will be docked up to a month’s pay.

Private agencies will be given the power to punish job seekers for non-compliance, with no recourse to appeal to Centrelink, which has, hitherto, made the final call. The government intends this to chalk up another $204 million in “savings” over four years.

The third component of the government’s attacks is a proposed delay in paying job seekers. Rather than backdating payments to the day the application is made, welfare recipients will be paid only from the day they attend their first appointment with a job agency.

This could rob them of up to three weeks’ pay, on top of the punitive waiting periods already in place, during which time they are forced to live with no income. The government reckons it can add another $198 million to its bottom line from this miserable chiselling of the most downtrodden.

The government says these measures encourage the unemployed to find work. What a cruel hoax. There are 720,000 registered unemployed in Australia but only 211,000 job vacancies: that’s a surplus of half a million unemployed. There are also another 1.1 million people employed who are looking for more hours, presumably first in line for more work.

On top of these, contained in the Welfare Reform Bill being debated in the Senate, the government wants to ramp up use of the cashless debit card system for those on welfare, reduce access to pensions for migrants and cut up-front payments to cover the cost of education to single parents, people with disability and carers, affecting 56,000 people on low incomes.

Finally, the Housing Affordability Bill implements automatic deductions for rental payments for people in social housing, removing any control by tenants on when their rent is paid – this although 99 percent of tenants pay their rent on time.

These changes, if passed by the Senate, are only the latest step in the long term debauching of the country’s system of social welfare. From being entitlements, social security payments have been converted into conditional and limited benefits.

Unemployment wages in Australia, at a pitiful $274 per week and, if you’re lucky, an additional $65 a week rent allowance, are already the lowest in the OECD and have not increased in more than 20 years. This degrading treatment of the unemployed has been overseen by both Coalition and Labor governments.

While the Turnbull government is trying to rip away what’s left of welfare, it is also trying to push through tax cuts for the big corporations, at a predicted cost of $14 billion a year by 2026. This comes as the Australian Tax Office reveals that one-fifth of the country’s biggest corporations have paid no tax in the past three years and some, such as Qantas, none in a decade.

The rich are now raking it in, thanks to such “light touch” treatment by the government: the top 1 percent now hold more wealth than the bottom 70 percent.

The Dickensian treatment meted out to the poor, compared to the indulgence shown to the rich, is a clear indictment of capitalism in Australia, a system that oppresses and browbeats the unemployed, exploits those in work and stings students simply to give more to those who already have too much.