Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) Honours
School of Arts and Humanities
The relationship between poverty caused by social security payments below the poverty line and poor wellbeing among recipients has long been established in academic research. In April 2020, recipients of Australia’s main unemployment benefit, Newstart, were temporarily lifted out of poverty due to their transition onto JobSeeker, a payment implemented to support Australian workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns in the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. This study sought to understand the experiences of wellbeing that receiving this increased payment and being embedded within a change policy framework engendered for participants who transitioned from Newstart to JobSeeker. To do so, the study examined experiences of wellbeing on Newstart and charts changes in wellbeing upon receiving the increased JobSeeker rate. A phenomenological design was used, producing qualitative data through interviews with four participants analysed using Colaizzi’s thematic analysis and critical discourse analysis. The central finding of the study was that income and the discursive positioning of the welfare recipient were significant gatekeepers to wellbeing: when participants were lifted out of poverty and accompanying narratives in policy and society surrounding what it means to be a welfare recipient shifted, participants’ wellbeing increased in all domains. The study supports previous research suggesting that an income below the poverty line is associated with low wellbeing, and that the dominant discourse in Australia of welfare recipients is a negative one, underpinned by neoliberal discourse, which also results in low wellbeing for participants. The implementation of JobSeeker and its accompanying discursive shift led to improved wellbeing for all participants. The higher income and changed perception of welfare recipients in discourse alleviated financial hardship and poverty stigma which resulted in improved wellbeing. Participants experienced increased self-efficacy in their ability to meet their wellbeing needs and in securing their long-term wellbeing through future-focused choices. The findings demonstrate that level of income and discourse of welfare recipients in Australia are gatekeepers to wellbeing through their impact on participants’ financial situations and the positioning of them in society, with positive changes seen in 2020 leading to a reduction of poverty experiences and feelings of inclusion into society. This study was framed by a transformative worldview and a critical theoretical approach; previous literature on the inefficiency of and harm caused by Newstart, and the current literature on wellbeing improvements when receiving JobSeeker along with the results of this study, help shape the current study as advocacy for payments that support a basic standard of living. Results of this study serve as further evidence towards the necessity of increasing the JobSeeker rate above the poverty line and shifting to discourse that humanises the welfare recipient, ensuring that those accessing Australia’s social security system are protected from poverty and supported in their engagement with society.
Huntley, K. (2021). Poverty and social security experiences in Australia: Experiences of wellbeing for recipients of the 2020 JobSeeker payment. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses_hons/1576