Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Working for the DOLE: Patterns of Paid and Volunteer Work among Income Support Recipients (1)

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Working for the DOLE: Patterns of Paid and Volunteer Work among Income Support Recipients (1)

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

The nature and extent of economic and social participation have received increased attention in recent discussion of welfare reform. Active encouragement of participation is a key theme addressed by the Reference Group on Welfare Reform (RGWR, 2000) and the social participation support system developed in its Final Report derives from the belief that:

   `Participation in paid employment is a major source of self-esteem. 
   Without it, people can fail to develop, or become disengaged from, 
   employment, family and community networks. This can lead to physical 
   and psychological ill health and reduced life opportunities for 
   parents and their children.... Social participation, valuable in 
   itself, can also enable people to develop skills that may be 
   transferable to paid work. For some people, therefore, involvement 
   in voluntary work of various kinds might be an appropriate component 
   of an agreed, strategy to develop their capacity for economic 
   participation.' (RGWR, 2000, pp. 3-4) 

Economic participation in the form of paid work is thus seen as a major source of income, but also of self-esteem. Social participation (including participation in volunteer work and caring for children and adults) helps to strengthen community networks in ways that may enable people to develop the skills required to participate economically, and is valued both directly and indirectly.

The welfare reform debate has been conducted against the backdrop of a changing labour market structure that is producing a more diverse range of labour market opportunities and outcomes. This is resulting in a gradual blurring of the boundary between employment and unemployment. Many of those in employment are experiencing a degree of under-employment and are thus, in part at least, also unemployed. According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in September 2000, more than 485,000 employed people (5.3 per cent of the employed labour force) were working fewer hours than they would like and were thus partially involuntarily unemployed. (2)

At the same time, there has been growing pressure for those of working age who are unemployed and in receipt of income support to actively seek and, where possible, participate in paid work. The Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS) reports that, in 1999-2000, 12.6 per cent of customers receiving income support in the form of labour market assistance also received earnings, with the average amount equal to $300 a fortnight (FaCS, 2001a, Table 30, p. 135). (3) Furthermore, as Pech and Landt (2001, p. 27) have observed, the proportion of working-age recipients combining employment with income support more than doubled between the early-1980s and mid-1990s. With the past trend towards growing diversity of labour market attachment expected to continue, the income support system will play an increasingly important role in supporting those seeking to participate in the labour market. Encouraging participation among income support recipients is thus both a response to emerging labour market trends and a goal for policy.

This paper examines the extent to which income support recipients are participating in two forms of participation--paid work and volunteer activity. While these specific activities do not cover all possible forms of participation, they are central to the broader policy debate, with the former (paid work) seen by many as the endpoint of attempts' to encourage participation and the latter (volunteering) part of the on-going debate over the role of social capital in the evolution of civil society (Warburton and Oppenheimer, 2000; Wilkinson and Bittman, 2002). The analysis is restricted to those in receipt of Newstart Allowance (NSA), Parenting Payment (PP) and Disability Support Pension (DSP) and draws on data from the Customer Participation Survey (CPS) undertaken on behalf of FaCS by Roy Morgan Ltd. …

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