The aim of the workshop is to critically analyse the development and administration of Income Management (IM) situated within the context of the interplay between evidence, ideology and policy implementation in Australia, but within a comparative context. The workshop will explore how income management fits within the competing philosophies that underpin different components of a neo-liberal welfare regime, which has been coupled with paternalism in the implementation of income management.
A number of governments around the globe have introduced conditional welfare programs tied to work and personal responsibility in an attempt to change the behaviour of disadvantaged groups. These programs have been informed by recent developments in the knowledge base of behavioural economics and cognitive psychology. In political terms, this development is part of a broader move towards the reconceptualisaton of the social contract from welfare being seen as a collective right towards welfare payments being used as a mechanism for changing the behaviour of disadvantaged sectors of the population. Australia took conditionality further than other countries through the introduction of income management (IM) – for welfare payment recipients within the Northern Territory as a key component of the Northern Territory Emergency Response in 2007 and subsequently in a number of other trial sites initiated by both Coalition and Labor Governments. The introduction of IM has provoked considerable contention. Much of this debate has concerned philosophical approaches, particularly individual versus structural, to addressing chronic disadvantage and the disproportionate (arguably, racially discriminatory) impact of IM programs on Indigenous Australians. There have also been intense debates around the empirical evidence for the effectiveness of IM, in particular whether this is an effective mechanism for changing the behaviour of welfare payment recipients. The few empirical studies of IM have had very mixed findings, with little convincing evidence to date of any population level effects. An associated question is about resource implications given that IM is now costing at least $100 million per annum.
However conditionality and ‘paternalism’ represent only one strand of the emerging changes in welfare reconceptualisation. At the same time in the field of disability, the conceptualisation of welfare under National Disability Insurance Scheme provides more, rather than less, power and autonomy to welfare recipients through individualised funding arrangements. The basic philosophy here is that individual wefare recipients are capable of managing their own payments and services. As such the workshop will facilitate a much needed discussion about the tensions and contradictions in contemporary social policy.
IM continues to be in the news, and seems to be a catalyst for broader debates around the values and aims of our social security system. The recent Interim Welfare Reform Report by Patrick McClure recommended that IM programs be extended to assist unemployed young people,and a major report by businessman Andrew Forrest has proposed that IM be applied to all Australian welfare recipients on working-age payments via the introduction of a uniform Welfare debit card. Supporters contend that IM helps recipients to prioritize the needs of children, manage budgets, cease involvement in harmful activities such as substance abuse or gambling, and protects them from financial harassment and violence. IM is now also being mooted for a range of other situations such as people suspected of supporting terrorist groups. But conversely, many political and community groups strongly oppose IM on the grounds that it is illiberal and paternalistic, racially discriminatory, in breach of international human rights norms, administratively cumbersome and procedurally unfair, overly costly, and does little to address structural causes of poverty and social exclusion. Thus IM is contested in the ideological, political, legal and empirical domains.
Although IM has been particularly contentious, it is also typical of many social policies in that it involves a complex set of interventions with multiple objectives, which play out differently in different contexts and which appears to affect people in very diverse ways. This raises questions about both the role and nature of evidence in informing complex and contested policies, but also the technical and methodological challenges of providing robust evidence of the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of complex policies.
This workshop will focus on IM to provide an opportunity to examine the interplay between research and policy development within the context of contested ideological approaches. Some of the questions to be raised include:
What are the principal objectives of IM and how do they fit within the developing ideas around conditionality and individualisation within social policy?
How can ‘success’ be conceptualised within a policy such as IM, and what could count as a measure of ‘success’?What do evaluation studies tell us about the impact of IM on the behaviour and attitudes of recipients?
What is the impact of IM compared to that of other existing voluntary support programs being accessed by equivalent population groups?
What new or existing methodologies could be used to evaluate the effectiveness of complex policies such as IM?
Do the costs of IM (financial and in terms of loss of autonomy) justify any benefits for particular groups of people?
Why do IM programs disproportionately target Indigenous Australians, and what are the potential implications of this in terms of the long history of paternalistic welfare approaches to Indigenous communities? What are the varied Indigenous attitudes towards IM?
How much importance should be placed on implementation issues including community consultation, in assessing policies such as IM, and their compliance with international legal standards?
Does IM represent a narrow behavioural change approach as opposed to rights-based welfare programs? Or can the individualist focus of IM be reconciled in some way with more structural approaches?
How can the paternalism of IM which reduces personal choice and autonomy be reconciled with the increasing emphasis in other welfare programs (e.g. NDIS) on increasing the client’s freedom of choice? What are the implications of these different manifestations for the future of post neo-liberal social policy and human service delivery?
Have IM programs engaged with service users and local communities, and if not, why not? What are the different experiences of the sites of Place-based IM?
Could a form of IM be developed that was compatible with community development principles?
Bielefeld, S. (2014) History Wars and Stronger Futures Laws: A Stronger Future or Perpetuating Past Paternalism? Alternative Law Journal, 39(1), 15-18.
Bielefeld, S. (2013a) Conditional Income Support under SEAM: Human Rights Compatibility Issues, Indigenous Law Bulletin, 8/9, 17-21.
Bielefeld, S. (2013b) Compulsory Income Management under the Stronger Futures Laws – Providing ‘Flexibility’ or Overturning Freedom of Contract? Indigenous Law Bulletin, 8(5), 18-21.
Bielefeld, S. (2012) Compulsory Income Management and Indigenous Australians – Delivering Social Justice or Furthering Colonial Domination? University of New South Wales Law Journal, 35(2), 522-562.
Billings, P. (2010) Social welfare experiments in Australia: more trials for Aboriginal communities. Journal of Social Security Law, 17(3), 164-195.
Billings, P. (2011) Income Management in Australia: Protecting the Vulnerable and Promoting Human Capital Through Welfare Conditionality? Journal of Social Security Law, 18(4), 167-191.
Bray J.R., Gray M., Hand, K., Bradbury, B., Eastman, C. & Katz, I. (2012) Evaluating New Income Management in the Northern Territory: First Evaluation Report. Sydney, Social Policy Research Centre & Australian National University.
Cox, E. (2011) Evidence-free policy making? The case of income management, Journal of Indigenous Policy, 12, 1-98.
Cox, E. (2012) There’s no evidence that income management works, so why introduce it? The Conversation, 9 July.
Cox, E. & Priest, T. (2012) Addendum: Evidence-free policy making? The case of income management, Journal of Indigenous Policy, 12, 1-15.
Katz, I. & Bates, S. (2014) Voluntary Income Managaement in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands. Sydney, Social Policy Research Centre.
Lovell, M. (2012) A settler-colonial consensus on the Northern Territory intervention, Arena Journal, 37/38, 199-219.
Lovell, M. (2014) Languages of Neoliberal critique: The production of coercive government in the Northern Territory intervention in Ryan Walter and John Uhr (eds.) Australian Political
Rhetoric. ANU Press. Canberra.
Mendes, P., Waugh, J., & Flynn, C. (2014) Income management in Australia: a critical examination of the evidence, International Journal of Social Welfare, 23(4), 362-72.
Mendes, P., Waugh, J., & Flynn, C. (2013) A community development critique of compulsory income management in Australia”, Alternativas, 20, 23-40.
Mendes, P. (2013) Compulsory Income Management: a critical examination of the emergence of conditional welfare in Australia, Australian Social Work, 66(4), 495-510.
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (2013) Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory.
For more information, please contact:
Mrs Nurdan Kulluk-Rennert
Manager, Executive and Workshops
Nurdan.Kulluk-Rennert [at] assa.edu.au
+61 .2 62491788