Australians of working age who are Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) and who also receive income support payments from government welfare services are a diverse population of people that represent an ongoing challenge to social and fiscal policy. There are many reasons why someone might be NEET. For example, a person may be suffering from a physical or mental disability that prevents them from either working or enrolling in any form of training. Others, especially women, may have voluntarily left the workforce for a period to raise children. Some people may be experiencing long-term unemployment or disengagement with education and training opportunities.
Whatever the reasons for any individual being classified NEET, one common factor in NEET analysis and policy development across developed nations has been a focus on young populations. Australian research has concentrated on NEETs aged 15–29 years, in line with international standards. This paper uses a new linked dataset to investigate whether extending the NEET concept to include all working age persons 15–64 years will add information of value to welfare policy.
Persons aged 15-64 years recorded as receiving Department of Social Services (DSS) income support payments from September 2011 were linked with Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census data from August 2011 to create a linked dataset for analysis. Our investigation found that some 1.37 million or 45% of linked DSS payment recipients qualified as NEET. Of NEETs, more than twice as many were female, nearly half were aged 45–64 years, and under 1-in-5 were aged 15–29 years. NEETs were more likely to be older, have low educational attainment, have a disability, and to be Indigenous.
Young NEETs aged 15–29 years represented less than 20 per cent of linked DSS payment recipients classified as NEET. As reporting for NEETs aged 15–29 years only is the norm, we suggest that standard NEETs reporting misses out on information concerning 80 per cent of the working age NEET population in Australia. Combined with other demographic insights, these results have implications for welfare policy, and indicate a wider range of demographics should be considered under the NEET classification. This may also have implications for international reporting.