Australia has experienced a long period of economic growth, and most Australians enjoy high standards of living and opportunities to participate and progress in employment. The Australian Government helps people in need through welfare, training and employment programs.
We know that people mostly get back on their feet quickly– finding a job and resuming life ‘as normal’. But for some, the need for welfare ends up being long-term, and the impact on their wellbeing can be dire. ‘Entrenched disadvantage’ can result, affecting individuals, their children and the community.
This report outlines evidence the Committee received on entrenched disadvantage in Australia, including the risk factors, and people at greatest risk of experiencing entrenched disadvantage.
The Committee heard that causes of entrenched disadvantage are complex, and there are no universal explanations for why some people experience entrenched disadvantage while others avoid it. This inquiry focused on identifying the factors that contribute to or increase the risk of intergenerational welfare dependence. Known risk factors relate to location, education attainment, availability of jobs, health and welfare, and Indigenous or single parent status.
There were inspiring examples of innovation in welfare programs shared with the Committee, such as the Logan Together initiative in Queensland, and the Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence. These programs demonstrate the benefits of place-based, tailored, coordinated services that help people by supporting them at critical or key life stages. They provided transferrable learnings that can help other families and communities in overcoming disadvantage.
Agencies that fund and deliver welfare programs showed their commitment to continual improvement, working to improve outcomes for welfare recipients and to reduce future welfare spending requirements. The task is complex, and decisions taken are not straightforward. It is clear that future success will involve greater coordination amongst stakeholders, and a shift towards flexible funding arrangements for welfare programs.
I believe this report is 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. Supporting them into better circumstances will strengthen Australia. Targeted assistance for families receiving 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.
On behalf of the Committee, I would particularly like to acknowledge and thank inquiry participants and their representatives for their willingness to share difficult personal experiences of entrenched disadvantage. It became clear during the inquiry that Australian communities have people that are really doing it tough, particularly people in remote and regional areas of Australia and in many instances, single mothers and their children.
I would also like to thank all Committee members for their collegiate and bipartisan approach to the inquiry. Committee members brought to the table a diverse range of opinions and experience in relation to welfare, and were collaborative in their approach throughout this inquiry.