Brotherhood Comment April 2011

Brotherhood Comment April 2011

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ISSN 1320 8632A regulAr updA te from the reseArch And policy centreApril 2011Inclusive growthThe new action imperativeIn an address to the University becoming uncompetitive. Today, of welfare protection through of Tasmania, outgoing federal by contrast, what constitutes the wage system was largely Treasury Secretary Ken Henry becoming competitive is not so dismantled and social services were (2011) asked, ‘How does one clear. As Eslake and Walsh (2011) deemed better privatised, while communicate the imperative for observe, all the big-ticket reforms commentators were inclined to action’ in Australian economic of economic rationalism (floating proclaim the end of ‘welfare as we policy? The speech amplified a the dollar, dismantling tariffs, etc.) know it’. Social policy shrank to popular perception among the were inherently ‘one off’. Then the dimensions of ‘welfare’; and Henry generation that unless the the issue was simply about freeing ‘reform’ became identified with post-1983 economic reform agenda the market. Over the last decade, getting people off income support.is reinvigorated we will end up however, it has become more about face to face with the consequences devising the kinds of positive, We now realise how much this of an economic decline currently ‘smart government’ interventions narrow focus on income support masked by the minerals boom. which can deliver our human obscured from policy view some But surely their agenda belongs capital and ...

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ISSN 1320 8632 April 2011
Inclusive growth The new action imperative In an address to the University becoming uncompetitive. Today, of welfare protection through of Tasmania, outgoing federal by contrast, what constitutes the wage system was largely Treasury Secretary Ken Henry becoming competitive is not so dismantled and social services were (2011) asked, ‘How does one clear. As Eslake and Walsh (2011) deemed better privatised, while communicate the imperative for observe, all the big-ticket reforms commentators were inclined to action’ in Australian economic of economic rationalism (floating proclaim the end of ‘welfare as we policy? The speech amplified a the dollar, dismantling tariffs, etc.) know it’. Social policy shrank to popular perception among the were inherently ‘one off’. Then the dimensions of ‘welfare’; and Henry generation that unless the the issue was simply about freeing ‘reform’ became identified with post-1983 economic reform agenda the market. Over the last decade, getting people off income support. is reinvigorated we will end up however, it has become more about face to face with the consequences devising the kinds of positive, We now realise how much this of an economic decline currently ‘smart government’ interventions narrow focus on income support masked by the minerals boom. which can deliver our human obscured from policy view some But surely their agenda belongs capital and infrastructure needs. of the most important welfare to the past. Around the world the This is the thrust of the COAG changes of the period. While thinking behind the paradigm national reform agenda and it governments were supposedly of ’83 is in decline. The new is emblematic of the inclusive against ‘welfare as we know it’, imperative is what the World Bank growth approach at the European social spending actually burgeoned. calls ‘inclusive growth’. This is the Union and the World Bank. Stebbing and Spies-Butcher (2010) policy action that Australia needs. observe that while the ‘public’ The shortcomings of the ‘agenda sphere of income support became Productivity Commission head Gary of ’83’ are much more obvious from increasingly targeted and hedged Banks (2011) notes the widespread the social policy perspective. The about with obligation, the system perception of an economic policy burning platform in social policy of what they call ‘social tax morass; Paul Kelly writes of the was, of course, the so-called fiscal expenditures’ (STEs)—for example, post-1983 agenda as ‘terminated’; crisis of the welfare state, leading private health insurance rebates, while Ross Garnaut talks of a ‘great into the apparent ‘permanent superannuation tax concessions complacency’ which has ‘poisoned austerity’ of the 1990s. Along the and housing subsidies—grew the well of future reform’. In this way, Australia’s distinctive form enormously. But the latter vein, Henry recalls how in the 1980s economists had found ‘themselves on a burning platform [of] high inflation and high unemployment’. ‘Action was inevitable’, and so Contents began the great wave of open market–oriented economic reform. The financialisation of everyday life: insights from Australian interviews Typically the explanations of  Beyond stereotypes: baby boomer workforce participation today’s complacency are in terms Labour market activation and young people: considering ‘choice’  of interest groups getting in the way of ‘economic science’ as good  Household energy use: what changes behaviour? times remove the spur of insecurity. Social inclusion and Indigeneity: towards embracing diversity  But the problems are deeper.  Navigating VET: the experience of at risk youth The old economic agenda was  Employment assistance: a fresh approach to unlock the potential of our labour force bold and on track in terms of opening up the economy. It spoke  Towards integrated client-centred services: developing a framework directly to people’s fear of a nation Brotherhood Current Awareness Portal (BroCAP): opening the door to information
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process was less transparent and favoured the better -off. Importantly the authors find that the international experience shows that the middle classes will always be ‘on welfare’. The only question is whether their welfare is done through often hidden and regressive subsidies to the private sector or whether it is through strengthening the public sector. The second great social policy failing of the model of ’83 was the simple assumption that economic growth translates automatically into human development and social inclusion. International policy agencies from the United Nations to the European Union are adamant today that while growth can be inclusive it will not be without an appropriate social policy regime. In broadest terms this involves employment-centred growth, universal social services and removal of inequality traps based on class, gender, ethnicity and location. It also involves effective governance systems which allow disadvantaged people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. This is the inclusive growth agenda. Calls for policy renewal in Australia are not of course confined to economists. Toby Hall (2010) asks for a ‘root and branch’ welfare reform, understood in terms of reducing the numbers on income support with an emphasis on tougher compliance regimes. Our reflection on the model of ’83  suggests that this way of framing
the need for social policy renewal is entirely inadequate. The task is not to go back to the future but rather to stake out new reform principles which learn from past mistakes. We believe the nation will engage with a new vision of a competitive economy that is also inclusive and one that embraces all our social investment so that we can be persuaded that it is both fair and efficient. Paul Smyth (03) 9483 1177 psmyth@bsl.org.au References Banks, G 2010, Successful reform: past lessons, future challenges , address to the Annual Forecasting Conference of the Australian Business Economists, Sydney, 8 December. Eslake, S & Walsh, M 2011, Australia’s productivity challenge , Grattan Institute, Melbourne. Hall, T 2010, ‘Time for fresh thoughts on welfare reform’, National Times , 20 September, viewed 12 March 2011, <http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/ society-and-culture/time-for-fresh-thoughts-on-welfare-reform-20100919-15hvk.html>. Henry, K 2011, Australia 2011: opportunities, challenges and policy responses , 2011 Giblin Lecture, University of Tasmania. Stebbing, A & Spies-Butcher, B 2010, ‘Universal welfare by “other means”’, Journal of Social Policy , vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 585–606.
Recent policy submissions Submissions or statements made by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in the last year include: Response to Australian Energy Regulator (AER) issues paper on retail energy pricing information guidelines, April 2010 Response to Treasury options paper on unfair terms in insurance contracts, April 2010 Submission to the review of the implementation of Securing Jobs for Your Future – Skills for Victoria, joint submission by Melbourne Citymission, Brotherhood of St Laurence and Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service, May 2010 Response to the DEECD Directions Paper Pathways to re‑engagement through flexible learning options , May 2010 Response to the Stronger futures for all young Victorians discussion paper on the youth transitions system, June 2010 Submission to Senate Economics Committee Inquiry into the Banking Amendment Bill 2010, July 2010 Submission to Caring for Older Australians: Productivity Commission [inquiry], July 2010 Submission to the National Advisory Council on Mental Health regarding ‘Daily bread, income and living with mental illness’, August 2010 Submission to the Treasury’s National Credit Reform Green Paper, August 2010 Submission to Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Reconnecting the Customer consultation, September 2010 Submission to Senate Economics Committee Inquiry into competition within the Australian banking sector, November 2010 Response to ASIC consultation on telephone sales for general insurance, December 2010 Line of sight: better tailored services for highly disadvantaged job seekers , submission to the Australian Government on future employment services from 2012, January 2011 Response to the Productivity Commission’s Early Childhood Development workforce issues paper, January 2011 Response to the Productivity Commission draft report Caring for older adults , March 2011 Submission to Commonwealth Review of Funding for Schools, March 2011 Policy submissions can be accessed on our website.
Brotherhood Comment is published three times a year by the Research and Policy Centre of the Brotherhood of St Laurence. The Brotherhood of St Laurence works not just to alleviate but to prevent poverty, focusing on people at the greatest risk at key life transitions. It is a national voice on matters of disadvantage, understanding that poverty’s remedy lies in integrating social and economic policy so as to strengthen the capacities of individuals and communities. Its research, service development and delivery, and advocacy aim to address unmet needs and translate the learning into new policies, programs and practices for implementation by governments and others.
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Published in April 2011 by Brotherhood of St Laurence 67 Brunswick Street Fitzroy, Victoria 3065, Australia ABN 24 603 467 024 Telephone: (03) 9483 1183 Facsimile: (03) 9417 2691 Email: publications@bsl.org.au
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From the General Manager
In March the Brotherhood of St Laurence mourned the passing of Concetta Benn. Connie came to the organisation in 1970 to work on a study of school leavers; soon became the driving force in the Family Centre Project; and from 1975 to 1982, was Associate Director of Social Policy and Research. This proved a golden age for Brotherhood research. Connie’s work blended a depth of understanding with a commitment to action which set a standard for all who have followed. It is timely to recall Connie’s great endeavour in the Family Centre Project, which put on the ground a service to demonstrate that people were poor not because of individual moral failures but because of unjust social structures. It aimed to show that if poor families were given sufficient money and other resources then they could take effective control over their lives. It was to symbolise the new rights-based approach to social work in the following decade. Today, of course, we are just emerging from another period of over-emphasis on behavioural causes of poverty and social exclusion. Connie Benn’s example inspires us to research and demonstrate the resources which every Australian citizen ought to have if they are to lead the life they value. Several articles in this issue of Comment take up this theme. Agency and structure today In their article on ‘the financial -isation of everyday life’, Zuleika Arashiro and Eve Bodsworth examine issues relating to the interplay of agency and structure. Financial inclusion policies too easily adopt a rhetoric of ‘informed consumers’, they write, which allows society to offload inappropriate levels of risk onto individuals while deflecting attention from the way their choices have been hollowed out by structural factors.
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Sonia Martin’s article on labour market activation and young people uses the ideas of the French sociologist, Bourdieu, to question the superficial assumptions about ‘choice’ informing some work-first approaches to welfare. As she proposes, we need to get a much better understanding of the contexts and constraints in which young people make decisions if we are going to have labour market programs which are effective. Writing about employment services more generally, Michael Horn highlights the worrying extent to which existing employment services fail to connect effectively with job seekers facing multiple barriers. The Brotherhood believes passionately that it is time to tackle these areas of obvious policy failure. We are committing resources to a major program of research and action called the ‘Line of Sight’. This will build on the work of our Centre for Work and Learning Yarra, introduced by Lauren Siegmann in this issue. It will involve new intermediate labour market programs and have a special emphasis on young homeless people. We are delighted that Eve Bodsworth accepted the position of Research and Policy Manager for the project. On the theme of economic participation, Dina Bowman and Helen Kimberley flag a another new body of research on mature age employment. Their article signals findings from a sizeable quantitative analysis of men and women aged 45–64 that the Brotherhood commissioned from NATSEM, and introduces key themes of their qualitative research into the factors that shape older people’s employment decisions. George Myconos also emphasises the resourcing needed for successful agency. His study of
the Community VCAL program shows how we have to better address the complex barriers faced by disadvantaged young people if they are to gain the full benefit from vocational education and training. Finally, in the face of rising energy costs and the impact of climate change, Victoria Johnson considers a variety of approaches to changing household behaviour regarding energy use Social inclusion: our next steps In this issue, Zoë Morrison touches on our ‘second generation’ social inclusion research agenda. This highlights the importance of the ‘politics of recognition’ and will extend our work into the areas of Indigeneity, ethnicity and gender. We are delighted to flag here also the imminent launch of our new Social Exclusion Monitor. A collaborative project with the Melbourne Institute, it will offer an online composite measure of social exclusion in Australia. Staff We are pleased to welcome to the RPC team Dr Francisco Azpitarte, in our joint appointment with the University of Melbourne as the Ronald Henderson Fellow. He was formerly a postdoctoral fellow at the London School of Economics. Paul Smyth (03) 9483 1177 psmyth@bsl.org.au
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The financialisation of everyday life Insights from Australian interviews The term ‘financialisation’ has been Financial vulnerability used to describe the expanding role While all Australians face of financial markets and actors increasing financial and economic in the operation of economies risk, not all are vulnerable , or and societies across the world will suffer damage as a result (Epstein 2006; Finlayson 2009; of that risk. People living in Pike & Pollard 2010), but limited poverty frequently experience consideration has been given to combinations of ‘precariousness’, the way financial processes have ‘material insecurity’ and ‘income been integrated into everyday vulnerability’ (Lister 2006) and life. This article looks at the are likely to respond differently impact of financialisation on to particular situations from the daily lives of some of the those with greater assets or secure most socially and economically employment (Spicker 2001). vulnerable Australians. Arashiro found that, despite diverse situations, the most common We draw from findings of two trigger for financial vulnerability research projects. While both was insufficient income and lack projects focused on the experiences of assets to buffer against shocks. of financially vulnerable people, Strategies to meet financial needs they had different perspectives and sometimes involved reducing modest aims. Bodsworth (forthcoming) social activities. Many participants explored the social context in which mentioned facing increasing fixed participants in Saver Plus, a matched and regular expenses such as saving program predominantly for food, energy, housing, child care, parents on low incomes, attempted education, healthcare and transport. to save and manage their finances during and after participation Anna 1 , an inspiring 69-year-old in the program. Arashiro (2011) retiree, proudly spoke of how captured some of the financial she makes ends meet, even needs and strategies of financially though her ‘choices’ reduce vulnerable groups around specific her social participation: life events and transitions. I’ve h d t back more and a to cu more and more. S At first glance, it may be unclear go out for a coffeeo i fn Iowm  Iw oitnhl y how a concept typically linked people and if I’m in town I bring with global financial markets and my lunch and my thermos ... I foreign investment might apply very rarely go out for dinner with to individuals and households. friends. I like to go to the pictures However, as we discussed our but then that’s getting too dear. research findings, we noticed that interviewees were facing Precarious employment similar challenges and dealing Whereas employment was once with increasing pressure to bear considered the main form of risk financial risks, even when they protection in Australia (Castles had not voluntarily made ‘risky’ 1994), casualisation and labour choices. Those observations led us market deregulation have shifted to consider how ‘financialisation’ greater risk onto individuals. has impacted upon their daily Casual or precarious work preceded lives (Martin 2002) and how many participants’ experiences they are being compelled to care of unemployment and financial for themselves in a financialised vulnerability in both studies. In economy (Finlayson 2009). the Saver Plus study, participants with irregular income described 1  Pseudonyms are used in the findings.
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difficulties meeting the program’s monthly deposits. Samantha, a single mother who withdrew early, found it hard to save due to her casual hours as a teacher’s aide: Because I wasn’t getting regular money in each fortnight it was quite a bit difficult to do, it really was … Some weeks you had more than others … taking that [Saver Plus Casualisation and deposit] money away, I don’t know, labour market just taking that money away I just deregulation have shifted greater risk couldn’t justify ... my main goal was getting a permanent job, getting onto individuals. a job at the school and then, oh yeah, I’ll look at [saving] later on. Precarious housing Housing represented both a major expense and a risk due to the shortage of affordable and decent private rental properties. The Saver Plus study participants’ housing circumstances made a large difference to their capacity to save: all those who withdrew from the program were spending at least 25 per cent of their household income on housing. Those renting feared that they would never be able to purchase a home and that this would leave them vulnerable as they aged. Sofia, a single mother working as a teacher, commented: I’m paying $1300 rent for an old house that belongs to somebody else. But that’s my biggest [worry], but with the way things are going, that’s a dream that I don’t see it ever coming real. Financial capability and consumer choice Despite the shifting of risk described above, vulnerability to financial and economic risk is often interpreted as an individual problem, related to lack of knowledge or poor money management skills (Hogan et al. 2004). While access to financial information and skills are essential, it is important to acknowledge that the power imbalance between consumers and
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the market is not only a matter of for small household purchases such information asymmetry (Stiglitz, as fridges and washing machines. Sen & Fitoussi 2009; Willis 2008). Conclusion The role of policies and regulation Research participants’ financial in addressing financialisation decisions were bounded by external requires attention. The privatisation factors, such as rising rent, very of retirement incomes, for instance, limited and unstable income, and has pressured retirees to deal the impact of welfare reforms. with the complex rules guiding A narrow emphasis on financial superannuation funds, transferring capability to transform citizens to that group the financial risks into ‘informed consumers’ able to associated with open markets. make adequate choices undervalues Government policies also influence the weight of income, class, levels of income and asset inequality. gender, and government rules on While people on low incomes face people’s ability to engage on fair barriers to asset building, higher terms. As our research indicated, earners are offered subsidies and tax developing financial capability is breaks around superannuation and important, but to be effective it home ownership (Brody & McNess must be accompanied by policies 2009; Shreiner & Sherraden 2007). that address the power imbalance between actors in the market Many single parents in both (Martin 2002) and the inequalities studies were concerned about their widened by financialisation. capacity to provide for themselves as they aged. Due to the combined Eve Bodsworth effect of low-wage, part-time work (03) 9483 2477 and periods outside the labour ebodsworth@bsl.org.au market while caring for children, most had little accumulated Zuleika Arashiro superannuation, and feared they (03) 9483 1380 would simply have to keep working zarashiro@bsl.org.au or live on the age pension. As Tess, aged in her thirties and working References casual hours, mentioned: Arashiro, Z 2011, Money matters in times of change: financial vulnerability You’re just resigned to the fact that through the life course , Brotherhood you are going to be on a pension. of St Laurence, Melbourne. That’s life, you know? And you Bodsworth, E (forthcoming), Many don’t plan otherwise, because you faces of Saver Plus (working title), know it’s not going to happen. Brotherhood of St Laurence, Melbourne. I d d many interviewees Brody, G & McNess, E 2009, Assets for all? n ee A review of the Australian Government’s mentioned lack of choice. Nicole, $77 billion support for asset building , 21 years old, was undertaking Brotherhood of St Laurence, Melbourne. vocational training in regional Castles, F 1994, ‘The wage earners welfare Victoria. She mentioned people state revisited’, Australian Journal of who were rejected by ‘normal Social Issues , vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 120–45. banks’, went to payday lenders, Epstein, GA 2006, ‘Introduction: and were ‘now stuck with heavier Financialisation and the world economy’, repayments’. Saver Plus participants in GA Epstein (ed), Financialization too had entered into h inte and the World Economy , Edward Elgar, igh - rest Cheltenham and Northampton. credit arrangements: in spite of the pitfalls, those were often the only source of credit they could access
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Finlayson, A 2009, ‘Financialisation, financial literacy and asstet-based welfare’, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations , vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 4–21. Hogan, MJ, Solheim, C, Wolfgram, S, Nkosi, B & Rodrigues, N 2004, ‘The working poor: from the economic margins to asset building’, Family Relations , vol. 53, no. 2, pp. 2–36. Lister, R 2006, ‘Poverty, material insecurity Many single parents and income vulnerability: the role of savings’, in both studies in S Sodha & R Lister (eds), The Saving were concerned Gateway: from principles to practice , Institute for Public Policy Research, London. about their R 2 capacity to provide l M ife a,r tTien,mple 0U0n2i,v e F r i s n it a y n  c P i r a e l s i s z , a P ti h o il n a o d f e  l d p a h i i l a y .  for themselves as they aged. Pike, A & Pollard, J 2010, ‘Economic geographies of financialization’, Economic Geography , vol. 86, no. 1, pp. 29–51. Shreiner, M & Sherraden, M 2007, Can the poor save?: Saving and asset building in individual development accounts , Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Spicker, P 2001, ‘Social insecurity and  social protection’, in R Edwards & J Glover (eds), Risk and citizenship: key issues in welfare , Routledge, London. Stiglitz, JE, Sen, A & Fitoussi, J-P 2009, Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress , [Paris], viewed 29 March 2011, <http://www.stiglitz-sen-toussi.fr/en/ documents.htm>. Willis, LE 2008, ‘Against financial-literacy education’, Iowa Law Review , vol.94, pp.197–285.
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Beyond stereotypes Baby boomer workforce participation Most Australians are living those aged 55–59 and more than longer and healthier lives. This half of those aged 60–64 are not is a testament to the success of participating in the labour force the welfare state, but it is also an (Gong & McNamara 2010, p.11). unprecedented situation. Successful Just over one-fifth (21%) of non-adaptation of a society to a larger participators aged 45–64 would proportion of older people requires prefer to be working, but the highest new ways of thinking about the involuntary non-participation rate social and economic contribution of nearly one-third (32%) occurs of older adults, the relationship between the ages of 45 and 54 (p.16). between generations and the balance In the 45–54 age-group, 44% of of risk between the individual men and 32% of women not in and the state. In this context paid work are ‘involuntarily not governments are focusing attention working’ (p.16); and in the same on increasing the workforce age group, 47% of the men and participation of older people. 25% of the women who have part-time paid work would prefer In a recent quantative analysis to work more hours (p.15). Many commissioned by the Brotherhood men and women in this age group of St Laurence, Cathy Gong and still have dependent children at Justine McNamara (2011) report home, so the number who are that, while discussion is often involuntarily not working has couched in terms of a seemingly serious implications for families. homogeneous group, ‘baby boomers’ are a heterogeneous sub-population Many factors shape involuntary and their workforce participation workforce non-participation and and non-participation reflect a under-participation of mature age complex set of circumstances, from Australians. The HILDA data which emerge some unexpected point to educational attainment, differences and connections. Their relative poverty, housing and health. paper is complemented by further Our qualitative study provides work at the Brotherhood, including insight into a range of other a review of the historical and factors that affect interviewees’ policy background and a small experience of being unable to qualitative study to gain greater obtain work or adequate work. insight into the diverse experience and attitudes of baby boomers and Social and economic context the obstacles they encounter in Johanna Wyn and Dan Woodman getting and keeping decent jobs. argue for a sociological understand -ing of generations that moves Our research takes as its focus beyond generalisations and situates those baby-boomers who are individuals within social, economic, involuntarily not working or cultural and political contexts across underemployed. We seek to the life course. They point out that understand more about who they an individual’s life experiences and are, their employment preferences the challenges they may encounter and why they cannot get a job or usually comprise individual, social work as much as they would like. and systemic dimensions, many of which are strongly influenced by Gong and McNamara’s analysis their membership of a generation of the data from the Household, and the cohort effect of that  Income and Labour Dynamics in generation’s place in time and space Australia (HILDA) Survey shows (Wynn & Woodman 2009). that almost one-fifth of baby boomers aged 45–54, one-third of
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The working lives of baby boomers Moving from have been shaped by economic permanent change, technological innovation, work frequently industry restructuring and profound triggered a downward social, cultural and political change. Like the rest of their generation, trajectory, with the baby boomers we interviewed each subsequent  job having perxopseprieerintcye tdo t thhee s thuifrtb furlonmt  epcoostnwoamri c poorer working e conditions than conditions from the 1980s, as the one before. tariffs were progressively removed, competition policy was implemented and workplaces were restructured. Moving from permanent work frequently triggered a downward trajectory, with each subsequent job having poorer working conditions than the one before (see Carole’s story). Like so many of her female contemporaries, Carole’s paid employment was interrupted by child rearing, and shaped Carole’s work history Carole, now aged 52, left school at 15, trained at business college and worked for many years as a secretary to senior managers in large firm. When she had children, she ‘gave up work’ and spent four years caring for them. Unfortunately, during this period offices were being computerised and she missed out on the necessary training.The number of general secretarial jobs declined and she was unable to return to work as a secretary. Drawing on her informal skills, she found work first as a care worker in a supported accommodation facility and then as a cook at a child care centre. But then she was retrenched: Then it’s been all downhill from there.The childcare centre was taken over by [Big Corporation] and food was brought in … and since then all I’ve been able to get are casual sandwich hand positions. With no formal qualifications but plenty of experience, she has limited employment options.
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by discriminatory policies. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s women were denied permanency in the public service or access to superannuation schemes after marriage. Even the advent of unpaid maternity leave did not protect women’s employment conditions, as many employers avoided compliance with apparent impunity. Employability Most of our interviewees grew up in an environment which placed little emphasis on education or formal qualifications. Most had left school at about 15, had found work easily and learned on the job, often rising to positions of considerable complexity and responsibility. However, once they lost these jobs, for whatever reason, it was very difficult for them to find decent, stable employment. Employability has become a vexed issue. While employers increasingly rely on formal qualifications as the primary indicator of job suitability, our interviewees puzzle about why they cannot find employment that utilises their experience and matches their previous levels of responsibility. Indeed, our research suggests that the rise of credentialism has the unintended consequence of locking people out of the workforce—even out of the simplest of jobs. Many mature-age workers find themselves confined to low-paid, unskilled, casual jobs. In turn, these jobs prevent them from taking up the sorts of retraining opportunities available to workers in secure employment. Age discrimination ‘not only exists – it thrives’ (AHRC 2010). Studies of workplace attitudes suggest that the majority of younger employees believe that mature workers make a less valuable contribution to the workforce and should exit relatively young (National Seniors Australia 2010). Such attitudes create a
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vicious cycle, with workplaces becoming less age-friendly as increasing numbers of younger managers are employed who lack the skills to successfully manage older workers or draw on their practical experience and expertise (Capelli & Novelli 2010). Policy challenges So what is needed? First, and perhaps most importantly, greater recognition of the diverse experience of baby boomers is required. It is important to acknowledge the circumstances that have shaped the trajectories of older Australians. Much of the emphasis about mature -age workforce participation has been on individual job seekers, but employer attitudes and workplace policies and practices are crucial. Better diversity management is needed both for recruitment and for existing employees. Many older Australians want to work—that isn’t the problem. The problems are the types of work on offer, the terms and conditions of available jobs and confusion about ability as opposed to credentials. Paid employment provides many social, economic, psychological and emotional benefits, but it must be decent, safe and appropriate. These are challenges for government, industry and society as a whole. Dina Bowman (03) 9483 1373 dbowman@bsl.org.au Helen Kimberley (03) 9483 1306 hkimberley@bsl.org.au Note The report by Gong and McNamara uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, a project initiated
and funded by the Australian Our interviewees Government Department of puzzle about Families, Housing, Community why they cannot Services and Indigenous Affairs find employment that utilises their (FaHCSIA) and managed by the experience and Melbourne Institute of Applied matches their (EcMoenlboomuirc nae nIdn sStiotcuitael) .RTesheearch previous levels of findings and views detailed responsibility. in their report, however, are those of the authors and should not be attributed to either FaHCSIA or the Melbourne Institute. References Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 2010, Age discrimination: exposing the hidden barrier for mature age workers , AHRC, Sydney. Capelli, P & Novelli, B 2010, Managing the older worker: how to prepare for the new organizational order , Harvard Business Press, Boston. Gong, C & McNamara, J 2011, Workforce participation and non ‑participation among baby boomers in Australia: a profile from HILDA data , NATSEM, University of Canberra, Canberra. National Seniors Australia 2010, Valuing and keeping older workers: a case study of what workers think about ageing, retirement and age ‑friendly workplace strategies , National Seniors Australia Productive Ageing Centre, Canberra. Wyn, J & Woodman, D 2009, ‘Generation, youth and social change in Australia’, Journal of Youth Studies , vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 495–514.
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Labour market activation and young people Considering ‘choice’ ‘Activation’ has become a common orientation in labour market policies in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, Canada and Australia. An important aim of labour market policies is to improve economic self-reliance by moving people into employment and off income support. However there has too often been an unhelpful emphasis on ‘work first’ activation strategies, with policy measures ranging from curtailing benefits and tightening eligibility, to making welfare contingent upon fulfilling certain job search activities and punishing recipients for non-compliance (Eichhorst & Konle-Seidl 2008). Underpinning most activation approaches is a set of contestable assumptions about the behaviour and morality of welfare recipients. They are perceived in two main ways, which can be summed up as ‘bad’ or ‘sad’. If they are ‘bad’  then they are seen to be guided by self-interest and tempted to abuse the welfare system. If they are ‘sad’ they are seen as having behavioural problems and other ‘shortcomings’ that require remedial intervention. Social policy scholars and other critics have raised concerns about the individualistic assumptions that underpin activation policies, but their arguments have tended to emphasise structural constraints and neglected the behaviour of welfare recipients themselves. The omission is problematic because it serves inadvertently to strengthen the case for activation policies that focus on individuals and their behaviour rather than wider structures. Choice Engagement with the notion of ‘choice’ is one way of extending an understanding of the circumstances of welfare recipients. My paper at the International Sociological Association’s XVII World Congress in Gothenburg drew on in-depth
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interviews with a small sample of young people with varied labour market attachment (Martin 2010). The interviews provide insight into how the 27 interviewees’ choices were shaped. Guided by critical social inquiry, the analysis reveals the complex interplay between individuals and their environment, and is of wider relevance to the ways in which behaviour is understood in social policy. Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘science of practice’ is a core component of this frame of inquiry. It is analytically useful because it draws attention to the place of choice in people’s lives and facilitates a reflective account of their circumstances. From his ethnographic work in the late 1950s, Bourdieu developed a ‘conceptual reflection on the relations between internalised dispositions and objective structures’ (Swartz 1997, p. 50). Three concepts are central to his work. The first considers society as a system of positions, understood as social fields . The second considers capital and social and cultural reproduction as a process of continuous restructuration that reproduces power relations. The third refers to the processes that mediate the subjective and objective, which Bourdieu referred to as habitus . Adapting his concepts here, the welfare field includes the institutional arrangements and administrative agencies, as well as market mechanisms and other agencies involved in providing welfare services. Key players include government, public servants, corporate stakeholders, service providers and welfare recipients, each with differing types and amounts of capital. Government is a powerful and influential player and through its authority sets the ‘rules of the game’ in the welfare field. Government administrators and welfare providers also have
high levels of particular forms of capital and generally have a good understanding of the rules that define the field. Conversely, welfare recipients tend to have low levels of the forms of capital that can be deployed in the welfare field, which reinforces their position in the welfare ‘game’. Bourdieu explains that people adjust their expectations with regard to the capital they are likely to attain within the social field (for example, educational background and social connections) so that those with low expectations of what is possible or reasonable tend to be less ambitious and ‘more satisfied’ with their situation (Bourdieu 2000). Through a process of cultural reproduction and symbolic domination, an individual’s position within a field is maintained. Young people’s options For the long-term unemployed interviewees in my study, the range of options for labour market participation was affected by a number of system failures beyond the young people’s influence or control. These included a lack of ongoing stable jobs, insufficient and unsuitable management and training within workplaces, difficulties accessing transport, inflexible work conditions and transient housing. The jobs available to young people with limited skills were also more likely to be impermanent, insecure and low-paying, providing little in the way of a career structure and potentially forcing some into ‘early retirement’. There was evidence that some had revised their aspirations downwards over time and, broadly speaking, few were critical of their exclusion, regarding it simply as the ‘natural order of things’. Bourdieu’s emphasis on individuals’ adaptations to limited opportunities in society shows how structural disadvantage can be internalised
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The range of options for labour market participation was affected by a number of system failures beyond the young people’s influence or control.
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into relatively durable dispositions, young man had comparatively high which can in turn be transmitted levels of capital in terms of social through socialisation and produce and familial connections and access forms of self-defeating behaviour to financial resources. Still, like (Swartz 1997). This process was the other young people’s choices, evident in the young people’s his ‘choice’ may be explained by comments about their experiences of the range of opportunities that he school and their limited aspirations. perceived to be available to him Several of the unemployed young at a particular point in time. The people spoke negatively of their deterministic accounts of activation school experiences but, rather advocates such as Charles Murray than laying blame with the school (1994) and Lawrence Mead system or teachers, they located it (1992, 1997) oversimplify the within themselves, stating it was relationship between individuals ‘their own fault’ and they ‘should and their environment. There have tried harder’. This may be was no evidence that this young regarded as evidence of ‘symbolic man had calculated it was more violence’ whereby the young financially advantageous to him not people had been limited in their to work (as per the work of Charles social mobility and aspirations Murray). Nor was there evidence and were later the recipients of that he was behaviourally or stigmatising and pejorative welfare morally deficient and/or a product measures (Bourdieu 2000). of poor family upbringing (as per the work of Lawrence Mead). Interviewees were asked whether or not some young people Complex decisions choose to live on welfare. Those The interview analysis indicates unemployed and those who had that young people do exercise been unemployed previously were choice and are active agents to the almost unanimous in their view extent that they make decisions that their own situation was not of about their lives from the range of their choosing. Many did indicate, options they perceive are available however, that they knew other to them, variable in both place and young people who had ‘chosen’ to time. Importantly this account be unemployed and went to great of behaviour differs from the pains to construct them as morally assumptions that underpin most and behaviourally different from of the contemporary approaches themselves, thereby reproducing and to activation. The young people’s reinforcing the dominant discourse choices were not limited to a about welfare recipients’ perceived rational calculation of income behavioural and moral deficiencies. security benefits. Nor would attributing their situation to One young man’s case perceived behavioural and moral The case of one young man is deficiencies offer an accurate interesting. Unlike the other explanation of their circumstances. participants, he stated he had Rather, as illustrated, the ‘chosen’ not to work so that he behaviour of young people and the could travel and remain with underlying choice process is much his girlfriend who was moving more complex; and explanation interstate. He explained his choice needs to take into account the as one that carried little risk because interplay between individuals he was confident he could secure and their environment. A more work at any time in his uncle’s sophisticated analysis of these business and he knew he had processes is essential for a more alternative financial resources. This advanced understanding of the
www.bsl.org.au 
circumstances of welfare recipients and the role of social policy. This is complementary to the work being done here at the Brotherhood to advance a progressive labour market strategy for disadvantaged job seekers in Australia. Sonia Martin (03) 9483 2497 The young people’s smartin@bsl.org.au choices were not limited to a References rational calculation Bourdieu, P 2000, Pascalian meditations , of income security Polity Press, Cambridge. benefits. Eichhorst, W & Konle-Seidl, R 2008, Contingent convergence: a comparative analysis of activation policies , Discussion Paper Series, no. 3905, IZA, Bonn. Martin, S 2010, Reconceptualising young people’s engagement with work and welfare: Considering ‘choice’ , paper presented to the XVII ISA World Congress of Sociology, Gothenburg, Sweden, 11–17July. Mead, LM (ed.) 1997, The new paternalism: supervisory approaches to poverty , Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC. Mead, LM 1992, The new politics of poverty , Basic Books, New York. Murray, C 1994, Losing ground: American social policy 1950 –1980 , 10 th anniversary ed., Basic Books, New York. Swartz, D 1997, Culture and power: the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu , University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
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