Policy Snapshots

This week in SNAPSHOTS:

  • Special focus on Welfare to Work: principles and realities
  • PLUS East Timor's future
  • AND Why do people choose private health insurance?

Welfare to Work: principles and realities

On July 1 the latest round of welfare reform came into effect; the federal government's ‘Welfare to Work' legislation is summarised in this ACOSS paper. The policy re-classifies some new applicants for pension-level payments — Disability Support Pension and Parenting Payments — as job seekers, eligible only for lower payments and subject to new ‘activity requirements'. Strict compliance regimes and penalties apply to the activity requirements, including a maximum eight-week no payment period.

This week in Brisbane, the ‘ Road to Where?' conference drew together advocates, researchers, front-line workers, and the odd DEWR bureaucrat to discuss ‘the politics and practice of implementing Welfare to Work'.

The Centre for Policy Development brings you these highlights from the conference, with more to come as papers become available.

US and UK studies provided sobering starting points

From the land of the brave and the free Evelyn Brodkin reflected on welfare to work — Clinton's 1996 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families legislation, which ended the guarantee of social assistance — as good politics and bad policy. Brodkin does street-level research: where policy hits the hip pocket. Available only as slides here, her findings are widely published elsewhere.

From Texas, Howard Karger explained the workings of a fringe economy, comprised of businesses that have a predatory relationship with consumers: payday lenders, rent-to-own stores, pawnshops and the like. Kruger argues that welfare to work has pushed the American working poor into the fringe economy, as much as the informal economy or unregulated labour market.

London School of Economics' Hartley Dean provided a historical account of welfare policy principles. Both Dean and Sharon Wright, also from the UK, noted the revival of moralising welfare policies and practices, which have their origin in Poor Law era distinctions between the deserving and undeserving poor.

From the front-line

Louise Humpage's work is based on interviews with ten current and former disability support pension (DSP) recipients living in Melbourne. The barriers to employment identified by these DSP recipients are far more complex than the barriers assumed by the legislation.

Conference organisers Greg Marston and Catherine McDonald reported on the experiences of Job Network employees and ‘clients'. Neither group was found to derive much satisfaction from an outcome-obsessed system. Job seekers' perceptions that they were ‘part of a machine' contrast with the rationale for a privatized, ‘responsive' employment service sector.


East Timor's future

It is widely accepted that the United Nations withdrew from East Timor prematurely. Now, as the UN prepares to re-engage, Charles Scheiner of the Timor-Leste Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis (La'o Hamutuk) calls for a long-term approach, rather than crisis containment. Scheiner argues, for example, that UN activities should seek to ‘stimulate Timor-Leste's nascent local economy', providing for local employment opportunities, as a way to tackle underlying issues of alienation, poverty and frustration. Another suggestion for the new UN mission is that it ‘must not endorse or accept involvement by Australia or any other nation except as a full partner in a multilateral United Nations force, under UN command'. Australia's desire for exceptional status, as well as the alleged ‘arrogance and racism' of Australian troops come under uncompromising scrutiny in this important report.


Why do people choose private health insurance?

This study by researchers from the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation uses the 2001 ABS National Health Survey to identify four ‘types' of people that purchase private health insurance (PHI). As in, an analysis of the stated reasons for purchasing PHI reveals that ‘choice types … value the attributes that distinguish the private and public systems such as choice of doctor' whereas ‘financial types' purchase PHI ‘to avoid penalties imposed by the government'. And these ‘financial types' are no more likely to use the private hospital system than the public one, belying the government's logic that the PHI rebate will ease the pressure on the public system.

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