Financial Stress and Social Security Settings in Australia

Authors: Ben Phillips and Vivikth Narayanan (ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods)

The Australian social security system spends around $120 billion dollars in cash transfers to Australian households each year. This money provides a safety net for around 5 million Australian’s most of whom have little or no other regular income source due to age, incapacitation, caring responsibilities or unemployment. Payments to these persons do vary substantially as do their financial requirements. This paper considers the latest trends in financial stress and poverty through recent decades but also through the COVID-19 period to better understand the emerging trends and the current state of financial stress and poverty for different types of social security recipients. It contains a particular focus on children and families. We find financial stress has declined through recent decades across the whole population. However, those receiving working age social security payments such as the disability support pension, Carer Payment, Parenting Payment and JobSeeker have been left behind. Their financial stress and poverty levels have worsened through Australia’s long economic boom of the last 30 years. The current planned rate of income support will leave 789,000 children in Australia living in poverty (more than 1 in 6 children). Using the relationship between financial stress and income we estimate where additional funding for social security would best be spent and what impact such spending could have on financial stress and poverty in Australia. The report finds that increasing overall social security spending by up to 20 per cent yields strong benefits in terms of reducing poverty and financial stress when targeted towards working age payments with high rates of poverty and financial stress. These include JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment Single, Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment.

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