Briefing paper

Social security and welfare spending in Australia: assessing long-term trends

TTPI – Policy Brief 1/2017
Welfare recipients Welfare state Government expenditure Household finance Financial inclusion Australia

This policy brief

  • summarises trends in spending on social security cash transfers and services in Australia since 1980.
  • examines trends in the proportion of the population receiving different social security payments and
  • compares Australian social security spending with other OECD countries.

Overall, social security spending has increased, but this trend is explained to a large extent by improvements to the comprehensiveness of the data. This Brief draws mainly on OECD data from 1980-2014 and on Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data about social security payments to households. When spending trends are adjusted for data improvements, it can be estimated that spending on social security increased from 6.1% of GDP in 1980 to a peak of 8.1% of GDP in 1993. The peak is due to the effects of the deep recession at the time. Spending on social security then fell back to 6.2% of GDP immediately before the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2007-08. Since then, spending has increased to 7.2% of GDP in 2014.

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