‘Living On The Edge’ parliamentary inquiry into entrenched disadvantage

The federal House of Representatives select committee on so-called ‘intergenerational welfare dependence’ has released its final report. The committee did an excellent job reflecting evidence provided in submissions and public hearings, given the poor framing of inquiry’s terms of reference.

The inquiry terms of reference had used the stigmatising language of ‘intergenerational welfare dependence’ falsely framing access to income support as being a cause of access to income support. This stigmatised people accessing income support as being ‘welfare dependent’, (which also forms the basis of many punitive government programs).

The committee is to be applauded for responding to criticism of the title of the inquiry and replacing the term ‘intergenerational welfare dependency’ (which falsely implies personal fault) with ‘entrenched disadvantage’ throughout the report. This is a helpful correction from ‘dependence’ to ‘disadvantage’, and acknowledges the complex causes of entrenched disadvantage.

Given that poverty itself is a driver for entrenched disadvantage, the report recommends a review of the adequacy of income support payments (including Newstart). It also recommends delaying single parents moving onto Newstart until their youngest child reaches twelve years old, (rather than eight as it is currently). QCOSS recommends that these payments be increased immediately, with a review to follow immediately after an increase.

The report showed evidence that many government initiatives based on conditionality and mutual obligations have no evidence of success and can make things worse for people struggling with entrenched disadvantage. Instead of helping, these programs add more challenges for people struggling with entrenched disadvantage.

Income support conditionality disempowers people by removing their choice and agency. This applies to many government initiatives including compulsory income management like the Cashless Debit Card, Work for the Dole, Jobactive obligations (including Parents Next), the Community Development Program, and Robo-debt compliance.

The report showed evidence of multiple successful place-based programs such as the Salvation Army’s Communities for Children and Logan Together collective impact model. It also highlighted the importance of housing, health and financial literacy programs to support people out of poverty and entrenched disadvantage. All these programs need to be co-designed with the communities they are delivered in.

QCOSS supports long-term, stable investment in effective social programs, and so we welcome the report’s recommendation both to move away from short-term funding cycles, and to implement meaningful evaluation requirements.

In the run up to the federal election political parties need to take note of this report’s recommendations. To effectively help people out of entrenched disadvantage means changing the stigmatising rhetoric of ‘welfare dependence’; increasing levels of income support (including Newstart); ending the failed conditionality programs like the Cashless Debit Card, and implementing effective, co-designed, place-based programs.