Welfare for some, illfare for others: the social policy agenda of the Abbott Government

27 Oct 2014

In an essay titled ‘What is social policy’, Richard Titmuss wrote: ‘What is “welfare” for some groups may be “illfare" for others’. Titmuss was ahead of his time in urging political commentators and social policy researchers to consider the broad welfare landscape and the mechanisms of distribution in making assessments about the share of burdens and benefits in a given society. His somewhat neglected concept of the ‘social division of welfare’ invites us to think about the moral and institutional distinctions between public, occupational and fiscal welfare.
This paper applies this analytical framework to the contemporary situation in Australia, particularly the social policy and politics of the Abbott Government and the proposed directions of reform in the recent Federal Budget and the discussion paper on ‘A New System for Better Employment and Social Outcomes’, prepared by the Government’s Reference Group on Welfare Reform. The paper highlights how it is possible to devise different means for achieving similar ends when we are prepared to go beyond the dominant narrative of ‘work-first’ as the solution to the problem of ‘welfare dependency’. Alternative directions for policy reform are outlined that reflect a contrasting set of assumptions and values about how to achieve sustainable prosperity and social well-being in Australia.
Professor Marston was the keynote speaker at the Reform and Rhetoric in Australian Social Policy Symposium which brought together researchers at The University of Sydney in September 2014 to discuss how contemporary social policy is being talked about, designed and debated. His paper is published in the Australian Review of Public Affairs (292).
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