Welfare Inquiry 2018-2019

How did we have impact?

The Life Course Centre was heavily involved across all stages of the Australian Government Inquiry into Intergenerational Welfare Dependence in 2018-2019. We made a fully-coordinated, Centre-wide submission to the inquiry, we were invited to appear before the inquiry’s hearings, and we had our research extensively cited throughout the final report.

Significantly, the report included a chapter titled ‘Life Course’ that focuses on the importance of key transition phases in a person’s life and the need for targeted, early inventions at these stages to prevent or interrupt entrenched disadvantage. To have our research approach embedded in a major report from a multi-party Australian Government inquiry validates the pre-eminent standing of the life course framework. It also highlights the power of our research to influence national policy discourse. The inquiry report made a total of 16 recommendations, with Recommendation 1 urging the Australian Government to prioritise “place-based and wrap-around services that can demonstrate evidence of successful programs for people living with entrenched disadvantage”, which reflects both the current and future focus of the Centre’s research.

This prominent Australian Government inquiry recognised the life course approach as central to addressing the problem of multi-dimensional, entrenched disadvantage.

Our research

The Living on the Edge report, tabled by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence in March 2019, makes more than 20 references to the Life Course Centre’s submission, published research, and evidence provided at the inquiry hearings. Our research was also cited in the Discussion Paper that accompanied the launch of the inquiry in August 2018.

Specifically, the Life Course Centre provided research to the inquiry that demonstrates a correlation between parental and youth welfare receipt. This research – Intergenerational Disadvantage: Learning about Equal Opportunity from Social Assistance Receipt (Cobb-Clark, Dahmann, & Zhu: 2017) – shows young people aged 18-26 with a parental history of receiving welfare are almost twice as likely (1.8 times higher) as their more advantaged peers to require welfare. The extent to which social assistance is linked across generations, however, depends on the nature of those benefits. The link is strongest in the case of single-parent payments, disability payments, and carer payments, which highlights the complexity of intergenerational disadvantage and the role of many correlated factors, not just welfare.

…lots of couples find that their relationship deteriorates for a while right around the birth of the first child. So that’s actually a family relation intervention point. One of the surprising findings from other countries is that nurse visitation programs often not only help somebody to be a better parent but help couples to be better couples.”

Professor David Ribar, Chief Investigator, Life Course Centre, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 8 November 2018

The inquiry report corroborates this research finding by concluding that entrenched disadvantage and the programs that address it are complex and multi-faceted, and that there is no single factor or mechanism that links the outcomes of one generation to that of the next. The report emphasises the importance of services such as housing, healthcare and financial literacy in providing a ‘multiplying effect’ for addressing disadvantage, and also pinpoints pre-natal, parenthood, education and employment transitions as critical life course phases that should be the target of early intervention welfare programs.

The inquiry

This inquiry was established by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence. The terms of reference stated it would report on matters relating to welfare dependence and the outcomes for children, including examining the reasons why some families only require welfare assistance for short periods and why others become ‘trapped’ in the system. The Life Course Centre provided a comprehensive submission that bought together research across its multiple disciplines and four Australian university nodes. The Centre was subsequently invited to deliver further evidence to the inquiry’s hearings, where our researchers presented opportunities for key life course interventions that can help interrupt the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.

“It’s a tiered level of intervention, which can be as little as a pamphlet in a mailbox right through to very targeted interventions with very difficult children. So I don’t think it has to be costly. Once basic infrastructure is in place, it can be rolled out…. Not everybody needs the same sort of intervention.”

Professor Janeen Baxter, Director, Life Course Centre, Committee Hansard, Sydney, 8 November 2018.

In launching the Living on the Edge report, Committee Chair Russell Broadbent MP said the inquiry was “a stepping stone in the right direction, to improve support for Australians experiencing hardship, especially the estimated 700,000 Australians considered to be living on the edge”. He said targeted assistance for families on long-term welfare support must address individual needs and local challenges. “A true turn-around in circumstances will depend on the government of the day prioritising change and committing to reviewing, evolving and improving programs that address entrenched disadvantage.”

Who was involved?

The Life Course Centre submission to the Australian Government Inquiry into Intergenerational Welfare Dependence included contributions from Professor Janeen Baxter, Professor Stephen Zubrick, Professor Deborah Cobb-Clark, Professor David Ribar, Professor Guyonne Kalb, Dr Anna Zhu, Dr Sarah Dahmann and Dr Nicolás Salamanca. Professor Baxter, Professor Ribar and Dr Zhu represented the Life Course Centre at the inquiry’s hearings.