When Welfare to Work activities for single parents were first introduced in the 2005 Commonwealth Budget, the primary claim was that these measures would increase individual wellbeing. A decade on, the veracity of this claim has yet to be comprehensively assessed. In this article, we systematically review the 41 Australian studies of income support recipients who were the primary carers of children, to examine the impacts of welfare-to-work on child and parent wellbeing. In line with the themes contained within these studies, we synthesized the findings related to three key areas of wellbeing: financial wellbeing; social connection and subjective wellbeing; and physical and psychological wellbeing. Academic research on the impact of Welfare to Work reforms on the wellbeing of single parents and their children presents an overwhelmingly negative picture whereby reforms have forced parents to participate in services that use ‘work-first’ and ‘one size fits all’, ‘blanket’ or ‘rigid’ approaches that do not help parents to meet their aspirations. Research also suggests that the reforms have decreased the financial wellbeing of single parents and their children, resulting in parents making the transition from welfare to work feeling less satisfied with their future security and standard of living, and higher poverty rates amongst the population of single parents with dependent children. However, there remain significant gaps in our understanding of how Welfare to Work affects parents and their children.
The Australia and New Zealand School of Government 2015