Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Job Satisfaction and 'Welfare-to-Work': Is Any Job a Good Job for Australian Single Mothers?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Job Satisfaction and 'Welfare-to-Work': Is Any Job a Good Job for Australian Single Mothers?

Article excerpt


On 1 July 2006, the Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Welfare to work and other measures) Act 2005 came into effect in Australia. This legislation enacted a fundamental shift in Australia's treatment of single parents with dependent children. Following the introduction of the 2006 welfare-to-work (WTW) measures, single parents were required to seek 30 or more hours of work per fortnight once their youngest child turned six years-of-age (Centrelink 2008). In Australia at present, 84 per cent of single parent families are headed by single mothers (ABS 2011a), pointing to the gendered impact of this policy reform. Given that single parents are recognised to be the most financially disadvantaged family type in Australia (ABS 2007), and that more than half of all single parents rely on government pensions as their primary source of income (ABS 2008), large numbers of single mothers and their families stand to benefit, or to be disadvantaged, by these welfare reforms. In addition, these WTW requirements are set against the context of: women's preference for part-time, employment (Buddlemeyer & Wooden 2011; Charlesworth et al. 2011); the casual nature of the majority (58 per cent) of part-time positions (ABS 2009); and the rise of casual employment (ABS 2011b), particularly in low-skill sales and service occupations typically taken up by women.

At the time of introducing the WTW policy, the then Australian government described the benefits of employment for people affected by the welfare reform as 'higher incomes', 'better participation in mainstream economic life' (Costello 2005: 3), and improvements to 'wellbeing' (Commonwealth of Australia 2005a, 2005b), One of the key assumptions underpinning welfare-to-work policy is that 'any job is a good job' (Gazso & McDaniel 2010; Baxter & Renda 2011), as WTW recipients are compelled to accept any reasonable employment opportunity. The 'any job is a good job' assumption contends that paid employment will deliver psycho-social benefits such as increased self-esteem and enhanced social networks, irrespective of the quality of the work involved or the social and organisational context in which this work is undertaken (DeParle 2004), This stance follows Jahoda's (1982, 1997) conceptualisation of the 'latent functions of work' where employment provides not only material resources, but also time structure, social contact, collective purpose, identity/status, and activity.

While the WTW policy was introduced by the previous Liberal government, the assumptions regarding the benefits of work are shared by Australia's s former Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard (2011). The current government's support for active welfare measures has seen the continuation of Australia's welfare-to-work program and recent policy changes have increased the number of Parenting Payment Single recipients who are subject to such work requirements. While single parents who were in receipt of Parenting Payment Single benefits prior to the introduction of the 2006 legislation were 'grandfathered' in that they were not required to seek work until their youngest child turned sixteen, recent policy changes have removed this provision. In light of the expansion of welfare-to-work requirements, if the government's assertions regarding the benefits of employment are to hold true over time, women will need to find positions that provide them with the flexibility and security required to manage the competing demands of work and family as a sole parent.

Single mothers' welfare-to-work experience

Several recent Australian studies have examined the experience of welfare-to-work participants. At a bureaucratic level, Brady's (2011: 278) analysis of official WTW discourse revealed a degendering of paid work as official programs provide 'little guidance on how mothering practices ... can be combined with practices of paid work'. …

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