I’ve been seeing quite a few posts bouncing around on Facebook and Twitter in support of drug tests for welfare recipients, or other limitations (including not allowing welfare recipients to vote). Oddly enough, none of these posts include any evidence that the majority of welfare recipients are on welfare because they’re shiftless burdens on society who simply don’t want to work. This is a little place-holder for useful, evidence-based sources looking at how and why we demonise welfare recipients in Australia. I may update it as I go along, including with relevant research from other contexts (for example, this look at 5 media myths about welfare in the US).
In this article, Archer looks at the way in which economic think tanks and political figures pushed the idea of “dole bludgers” who were a burden on hard-working taxpayers, as part of the general shift towards neoliberal in the 1970s. This is important because it demonstrates that concerns about “dole bludgers” aren’t a response to changing conditions (such as an increasing number of people taking advantage of Australia’s welfare system) but rather is a result of a particular political project.
John Falzon, 2011, Real welfare reform needs guts, not paternal damnation.
This article, which is written for a popular audience and therefore both an easier read and less heavily referenced, emphasises that problems associated with welfare are collective, not individual. Falzon raises various objections to the idea that those who are marginalised should be blamed for their own marginalisation.
Karen Soldatic and Barbara Pini, 2009, The three D’s of welfare reform: disability, disgust and deservingness.
This more in-depth piece looks particularly at disability and welfare in Australia. It includes comments on the ways in which welfare policy under Howard actually discouraged disabled people from engaging in work (including voluntary work). It also provides some thought-provoking research on how we construct ‘deservingness’ (in other words, how do we decide who is ‘deserving’ of help and who is just a “dole-bludger”?)
Tim Prenzler, 2011, Welfare fraud in Australia: Trends and Issues.
Prenzler uses official data in order to inform the debate on welfare in Australia. He determines that, “demonstrable fraud represents a very small fraction of all welfare transactions”.
Eva Cox, 2012, What’s data got to do with it? Reassessing the NT Intervention.
One of the repeated themes in populist critiques of Australia’s welfare system is the idea that we need to limit people’s freedom to spend their welfare as they see fit. Sadly, the NT Intervention provides us with a case study in what this might look like in practice. “Income management” has been imposed in some communities (after a shameful suspension of the racial discrimination act). Cox evaluates a range of research in order to evaluate whether the intervention has been successful, and finds that there is little evidence to suggest it has.