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Welfare-to-work Policies and the Experience of Employed Single Mothers on Income Support in Australia: Where are the Benefits?

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In July 2006, “welfare-to-work” policies were introduced for single parents in Australia. These policies require most single parents with school-aged children to be employed or seeking employment of 15 to 25 hours per week in return for their income support payment. The changes represented a sharp increase in the obligations applying to single parents on income support. This paper is concerned with how the wellbeing of single mothers who are combining income support and paid employment is being influenced by these stepped-up activity requirements. The paper draws on data from semistructured interviews with 21 Brisbane single mothers. The analysis explores participants’ experiences in the new policy environment, utilising the theoretical framework of “relational autonomy”. Relational approaches to autonomy emphasise the importance of relations of dependency and interdependency to the development of autonomy and wellbeing in contrast with more individualistic approaches that privilege independence and self-sufficiency. Findings indicate that in their dealings with the welfare bureaucracy, participants experienced a lack of recognition of their identities as mothers, paid workers, and competent decision makers. These experiences have negative consequences for self-worth, relational autonomy, and ultimately the wellbeing of single parent families.
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Keywords: Recognition; Relational Autonomy; Single Mothers; Welfare; Work

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Social Work and Human Services,The University of Queensland, Queensland, Australia 2: Department of Social Work and Human Services,Queensland University of Technology, Queensland, Australia

Publication date: March 1, 2012

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