Conditional income, conditional lives

Stream: Social security, conditionality and risk
Date: Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Time: 1.35 pm – 3.15 pm


Conditional and fluctuating labour-market/welfare income amplifies the financial, social and emotional hazards in many low-income households. For the majority with thin financial buffers, the chronic uncertainty in calculating what money may be received in the next fortnight (and when) heightens the risk of hardship.

The turn to behavioural economics problematises the individual for their various inadequacies managing the extra financial risks they now carry. As part of the multifaceted challenge to this turn, Australian welfare and labour market researchers have had, until recently, their own resource inadequacies. Reliance on commonly-used point-in-time survey data (ABS, HILDA, etc) severely compromises investigating the meaning and relevance of income volatility. The ranges of risks households most exposed to the impact of fluctuating income occur in real time—from pay-to-pay.

In this presentation we report on the initial findings of a pilot study into patterns of Newstart Allowance receipt utilising a new resource that addresses some of these data limitations. Evidence for this baseline study is drawn from a Department of Social Security database that records every Australian’s interactions with Centrelink since the year 2000. This daily, event-based data provides an important opportunity to examine individual patterns of NSA receipt over an 18-year period.

We find that point-in-time data severely underestimates the number of Australians who utilise NSA in a given year, that the policy design assumption NSA is a ‘bridging payment’ between unemployment and employment is increasingly untenable, and that there are distinct patterns of receipt spells.


Marcus Banks (Presenter), RMIT University
Dr Marcus Banks is an Honorary Fellow in the School of Social & Political Sciences, the University of Melbourne, and is a casually-employed researcher in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT University. His research applies an economic sociology lens to investigate the experiences of households living at the intersection of welfare, labour and finance markets.

Dina Bowman (Presenter), Brotherhood of St Laurence
Dr Dina Bowman is Principal Research Fellow, Work and Economic Security, Research and Policy Centre, Brotherhood of St Laurence and an Honorary Senior Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne. Dina's research examines the drivers and impacts of inequality and economic insecurity. Current projects include research on older unemployed women (including those at risk of homelessness) and microenterprise; young vulnerable migrants’ experience of employment and economic security; and an ARC Linkage study on mature age pink collar workers and health.