Australian welfare provision for single parents
Case Study: Australian Welfare Provision for Single Parents and their Children
Background of Welfare System
While identifying as to what welfare constitutes, T. H. Marshall asserts that welafre is the provision of social rights and economic adequacy to people (in addition to political rights), in order to make the individual to qualify to the status of possessing a modern citizenship (Marshall, 2009). Taking his view in broad general terms, welfare refers to the well-being of an individual or community in terms of possessing basic educational means, health services, housing system or the social security benefits, and the provision of such level of well-being to those who cannot afford to obtain these needs (Buckmaster, 2009). There are many types of welfare like the liberal, conservative and social democratic welfare, among which Australia falls under the liberal welfare group (Andersen, 1992). This group aims for the mitigation of poverty by selectively targeting the poor in a residual mode, to eventually gain balance in economic growth among its citizens (Buckmaster, 2009). In essence, when it comes to welfare provision, Australia has been regarded as the country with the most selective criteria to provide income support system, probably owing to the fact that such support comes from general taxation (Mendes, 2008). Welfare in this sense is therefore a tool to treat symptoms of poverty, instead of making it a dependent variable among people (Powell & Hendricks, 2009).
1.2.Pre and Post Australian Welfare System and Single Parents’ Provision
Although it has been noted by various historians that Australia had lesser disparities of wealth as compared to other countries in the pre-welfare era (before early 20th century), there were nevertheless many struggling farmers, unemployed labourers, disabled, disowned and aged people (Mendes, 2008). However this condition changed by the early 20th century, with the establishment of the Commonwealth Federation in 1901 (Mendes, 2008). As a nascent welfare state model, it first addressed the fair and reasonable wage issues, and the country subsequently became a social laboratory by assisting the poor, aged, disabled, women, and the unemployed working age-group (Mendes, 2008). Australia as a welfare state was officially established by the 1940s (Mendes, 2008). This establishment however posed many predicaments for scholars and theorists, whose studies brings out the question of how over the years, Australia have been facing the issue of identifying as to who really deserves the welfare, and whether some abandon their self reliance to depend on the welfare (Saunders, 1999). In Jamrozik and Nocella’s view, many social policies and social welfare work has been meted out to fight the challenges meted out by this increasing trend of dependence (Jamrozik & Nocella, 1998). In the post-welfare state, and mainly in the 21st century, Australia like many welfare country is also faced with the increasing trend of the globalizing capitalistic economy, which is held responsible for eroding the social structure and reducing it to poverty making welfare scheme necessary for the growing social inequalities (Jamrozik & Nocella, 1998). Among the most affected group in this globalizing process are the single parents group and their children, whose welfare needs have been significantly increasing in Australia (Jones, 2002). Shurlee Swain asserts that, “one parent families are among the poorest in the welfare state, and the most frequent users of charities for clothes, furniture and crisis assistance” (Swain, 1995, p. 206). Many single-parent households in Australia have been relying heavily on both social security payments and child support (Summerfield, Young, Harman, & Flatau, 2010). By taking the statistics and theoretical perspectives, this essay looks into whether the number of welfare recipients in Australia which is increasing at an alarming rate among single parent should be looked into as a matter of social incompetency or the need to raise the income and living standard of the people for balance economic growth.
Among many theoretical perspectives on welfare state and provision, perhaps the most comprehensive social structural and policies can be found in Gøsta Esping – Andersen and Asa Briggs’ studies. Andersen brings out the core principle of what welfare means, which is the state’s responsibility of re-distributing and allocating finance to satisfy the needs of the citizens (Andersen, 1992); while Asa Briggs shows how welfare allows citizens to satisfy their social and economic needs (Briggs, 2006, p. 16).
In Australia, perhaps Adam Jamrozik and Luisa Nocella’s The Sociology of Social Problems: Theoretical Perspectives and Methods of Intervention (Jamrozik & Nocella, 1998) can be considered as the text that laid the foundation for understanding the social structure and policies in Australia. In their study of the Australian society, they gives out an interesting social theory known as residualist conversions (Jamrozik & Nocella, 1998, chapter 6), where every individual issues are seen as larger societal threats, and how such issues can be mitigated, in terms of welfare provision, by the social and political power holders (Jamrozik & Nocella, 1998). Also as a basic text for post-welfare studies in Australia, Adam Jamrozik’s text, Social Policy in the Post-Welfare State: Australians on the Threshold of the 21st Century (Jamrozik, 2001), gives a deep theoretical analysis of social policies and conditions in Australia, by building its context around many arguments on social welfare and the statistical facts provided by the Australian welfare statistics. In addition to this, the edited welfare volume of Wilson et al., also covers all the basic welfare system and policies of Australia like the aged, women, aboriginals, refugees, single parents, etc. with statistics to support their studies (John Wilson, Jane Thomson, 1996).
On single parents and child support welfare systems, Summerfield et al. also gives analysis on the growing single-parent households in Australia, and how they have been relying heavily on both social security payments and child support. Writers such as Teresa Grahame & Greg Marston have also worked on the ‘Welfare to Work’ reform for the single parents (Grahame & Marston, 2012). Their studies mainly brought out the effects of the reform that requires single parents who have school going children, to look for jobs that needs 15-25 hours of labour per week. Their main emphasis is on single mother, and how they deal with the consistently changing welfare benefits.
Single Parents and Children Welfare in 21st Century
Twenty first century in Australia have shown remarkable increase in single parents, and they continue to suffer vehemently in terms of short and long terms financial issues, and basic needs deprivation in terms of facilities and food (Saunders, 1999; Summerfield et al., 2010). To improve their conditions, and bring them up to economic growth and balance with the rest of the citizens, many reforms have been initiated. The single parents benefits reform, started as early as 1973, where single parents were given to right to claim child support welfare until the child reaches 16 years of age (Jones, 2002). The criteria to claim such welfare benefits revolve around the non-contribution of the other spouse, and many of these beneficiaries are women (Jones, 2002).
However, since its introduction, this system has undergone various changes (Jones, 2002). During the Prime Ministership of John Howard (1996-2007), this system receives a liberal boost, when the unemployment benefits were extended to those receiving these schemes (Wolfinger, 2014). Between 2006-2008, many reforms to determine the eligibility criteria of the single parents to claim welfare provision for child support was given out (Summerfield et al., 2010). One such reform was known as the Welfare to Work (WTW), which reduce the burden of taxes among single parents, while aiming to improve the standard of their children. The following chart as to why such liberal reform was meted out by the liberal government.
Family Types in Percentages
Chart I: Financial stress indicators for households with children aged 0–14, by family type, 2010
Source: (AIHW, 2013)
After this however, Kevin Rudd’s government (2007-2010) tried to tone down the liberalist ideology by introducing the tightening the conditions for receiving all welfare benefits (Wolfinger, 2014). It was however the coming of Gillard government (2010-2013) that the single parents welfare have receive marked changes with a policy known as Newstart (Wolfinger, 2014). Rather than getting welfare support till the child is 16, single parents were asked to look for employment and hence removed from the benefits, once the child reaches 8 years old (Wolfinger, 2014). The number of single parents claimant of the Newstart shows an increase of 399,401 in 2008 to 520,194 in 2009 (theguardian, 2014); and from 527, 480 in 2001 to 549,773 in 2012 (theguardian, 2014). This figure is set to continually rise, since by 2014, as many as 80,000 single mothers were put under the Newstart (theguardian, 2014). The reform also deduct the welfare benefits, and every beneficiaries suffers an average loss of $140-$200 (Church, 2013). As per the new policy, a single parent adult receives only $34 per day, and around $246 per week (Church, 2013). Since their income dropped, many single parents, especially women are now looking for job, which also means that employment burden increased for the country (Church, 2013). The Gillard’s reform was mainly aimed at women, since at present, the ratio of single women parents against men looks 5:1 in Australia (Summerfield et al., 2010). To get a clearer picture, it means that single female parents constitutes as high as 87% against single male parents (Summerfield et al., 2010).
Australia does not come under the category of highly developed welfare state among industrialized Nations since she used residual approach to welfare provision (Nazneen Sada Mayadas, Thomas D. Watts, 1997). When welfare system took off for the time, the culture of welfare was seen as entitlements; however in the post-welfare state, welfare has become more or less a responsibility (Baum, O’Connor, & Stimson, 2005). There is an alarming rate of dependents on welfare who lived off the benefits without working (Saunders, 1999), thus, losing self-reliance in the process (Powell & Hendricks, 2009). Statistically, the increment among single parents and their children dependence surged from 36, 015 in 1774-75 to 604, 000 in 1999 (Jones, 2002). Owing to such predicament, the Australian Federal Government is now moving towards greater selectivity in providing welfare (Baum et al., 2005). It provides measures to shape their target better, in order to burden the increasing erosion of welfare benefits and coverage (Baum et al., 2005). Some of such measures includes the tightening the criteria to check beneficiary’s eligibility, income testing, and providing direct supervision by the Federal Government to the targeted group (Baum et al., 2005). In order to make welfare a fair scheme, the Government is making self reliance an obligation for working-age group, instead of being dependent on welfare (Baum et al., 2005).
Gail Reekie’s studies shows that in post-welfare state, single parents’ provisions have acted detrimental to the country’s economy (Reekie, 1998). Owing to various government taxation concessions, the single parents end up gaining more and economically well off, thus burdening the rest of the community. This situation have made attacks against single parents (especially women) to become very popular in “television, talkback shows and radio current affairs program” (Reekie, 1998, p. 63) in Australia. Wide allegations about the single parents’ abusing the welfare schemes are nothing new in Australia. In fact, it can be traced back to as early as 1973, when ‘Supporting Mother’s Benefit’ was established (Reekie, 1998). As per Reekie, this anti-welfare rhetoric nature, where welfare takes the form of work incentive schemes, reported comes from America (Reekie, 1998). His criticism went to the extent of accusing women of having babies to take advantage of the welfare profit (Reekie, 1998).
Studies by Wolfinger shows that single women who enjoyed these benefits have been termed by the media as burden, irresponsible, dishonest, struggling, etc. (Wolfinger, 2014).
While those who enjoyed welfare, especially women, continues to be denigrated, it is difficult to justify this single parents’ welfare provision, morally or ethically; rather it can be seen as artificially reducing the unemployment issues. This study of the single parents and child support welfare schemes, finds out that many of the welfare issues are politically interplayed and contextualized. Over the years, welfare provisions have undergone changes, and although criticisms continue to haunt the welfare dependency system, it nevertheless assured Australian citizens a balance economic growth. Since the linking of unemployment benefits to the single parent welfare scheme, the country in a way made welfare to provide employment for everyone.
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