Travelling the 'Work-First' Road to Welfare Reform

Just Policy - A Journal of Australian Social Policy, Vol. 44, pp. 12-22, 2007

Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 08/10

26 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2008

See all articles by Terry Carney AO

Terry Carney AO

The University of Sydney Law School


This paper examines the radical sectoral shift effected by the Government's 2005/6 welfare-to-work reforms. For the affected group - sole parents (and parenting payment partnered recipients), the partially disabled, and the long-term unemployed - these reforms will be shown to have transformed 'social security policy' into a form of 'labour policy' (or more accurately 'labour-market policy'). They also alter the lines of responsibility for, and the content of welfare for these groups, other than those in 'protected' categories (such as disabled people unable to work for more than 15 hours) or those covered by the temporary 'transitional' measures (such as people in receipt of payments when the reforms were announced). It is suggested that for most people of workforce age (including transitional categories), social security is now effectively an individual-responsibility-gateway into labourmarket exposure (or delayed exposure in the case of transitional Parenting Payment recipients). For these groups, the primary role of social security payments is to impose a set of conditions (backed by a strong compliance regime) which serves to oblige people to accept any job, of almost any duration or terms, which the labourmarket generates.

It is argued that genuine welfare reform requires that attention return to the social rights of welfare recipients (their 'social rights of citizenship') and the community's reciprocal social responsibilities to ensure that collective state (or governmental) action is taken to ameliorate the risks of participating in an (increasingly deregulated) labour market.

Keywords: Neoliberal Welfare, Welfare Reform, Work-first

JEL Classification: K10, K31, H53, I31, I38

Suggested Citation

Carney AO, Terry, Travelling the 'Work-First' Road to Welfare Reform. Just Policy - A Journal of Australian Social Policy, Vol. 44, pp. 12-22, 2007, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 08/10, Available at SSRN:

Terry Carney AO (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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