Our research looks at the interaction between employment, social security, and taxes and transfers.

We’re working to learn how policies help or hinder people’s economic security. This research is used to inform our advocacy and program development and delivery.

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For most Australians of working age, the main source of income is wages. However, low wage growth and increasingly insecure work means that people living on low or fluctuating incomes face extra risks and tough choices.

Low incomes over a working life can put people, especially women, at great risk of poverty later in life. They may be unable to afford decent housing, transport or health services.

Our income research is interested in how households make ends meet and what policies and programs are needed to help them build economic security.

Despite sustained economic growth in Australia, inequality persists and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening.

The decline in entry-level and semi-skilled jobs, coupled with increased restrictions on government income support, has compromised some people's ability to earn a stable income. It can also limit their access to necessities such as housing, transport, care services, health services and education.

Services such as disability or aged care are increasingly complex and require specific knowledge and skills to navigate.

Our financial capabilities research examines what is needed to help people to understand their entitlements and get what they need. We work with others to develop products and programs, while advocating for change.

Find all recent publications on Income (2000–present)

Visit the BSL library for our earlier research on Income (pre 2000)

Social security

Social security enhances wellbeing, reduces vulnerability to 'shocks' and enables people to participate fully in social, economic, political and cultural life.

Our research looks at the interaction between employment, income support, and taxes and transfers.

We examine the impacts of current policies and consider alternatives such as Universal Basic Income to inform advocacy for an equitable social security system. This work is central to achieving economic security for all.

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Find all recent publications on Social security (2000–present)

Visit the BSL library for our earlier research on Social security (pre 2000)

Our policy positions for income and social security

• Ensure social security payment rates are sufficient to enable people to live with dignity and participate in community and economic life.

• Establish an independent Social Security Commission to set, monitor and review social security payment rates.

• Legislate principles to reframe Australia’s social security system as an investment in our nation that is enabling, capability building, respectful and fair.

Phillips, B & Narayanan, V 2020, Financial stress and social security settings in Australia , ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University, Canberra.

Yanotti, M, Banks, M, de Silva, A, Anantharama, N, Whiteford, P, Bowman, D & Csereklyei, Z 2021, The utility of new data in understanding housing insecurity , AHURI final report no. 351, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited, Melbourne. DOI:10.18408/ahuri5321801.

Selected publications

By Emily Porter and Dina Bowman 2021

In the second paper in the Financial Lives in Uncertain Times series, we explore the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and resulting policy responses on financial wellbeing.

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By Social Ventures Australia and Brotherhood of St. Laurence 2021

How prevalent is poverty and financial stress among Australian children and families, and what has been the impact of COVID-19? What difference could social security spending make?

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By Dina Bowman, Maria Mupanemunda and Seuwandi Wickramasinghe 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has been described as a women’s pandemic because of its unequal social and economic impacts. Governments must invest in creating jobs, stimulating the economy and tackling stubborn social policy problems so as to build a better future for low-income women and their families.

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By Emily Porter, Dina Bowman and Matthew Curry 2020

Our analysis of Roy Morgan Single Source Survey data showed that financial wellbeing in Australia improved in the two years before the COVID-19 crisis, but not all groups experienced the same improvements.

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By Dina Bowman, Marcus Banks, Peter Whiteford, Ashton de Silva, Nandini Anantharama, Zsuzsanna Csereklyei and Shelley Mallett 2020

What insights about income support can be gained from daily, event-based data about recipients of Newstart Allowance from 2001 to 2016?

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By Seuwandi Wickramasinghe and Maria Mupanemunda 2020

A micro-enterprise program for women from refugee, migrant and asylum-seeking backgrounds shows why it is important to tailor financial literacy and business training to participants’ contexts and to support multiple pathways to economic security.

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By Danielle Thornton, Dina Bowman and Shelley Mallett 2020

Tracing the history of Australia’s social security system helps us to consider what reforms are needed for the present day.

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By Dina Bowman and Seuwandi Wickramasinghe 2020

What needs to change, for single mothers to be able to build a secure future for their families?

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By Jeremiah Thomas Brown & Dina Bowman 2020

Our new framework explores what is needed for all Australians to enjoy financial wellbeing.

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By Jeremiah Thomas Brown 2020

The concept of economic dignity extends how we understand financial capability. It is not just about people having knowledge and skills, but also about how social and economic structures and systems shape their choices.

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By Dina Bowman. Danielle Thornton and Shelley Mallett 2019

The authors propose five principles to guide and underpin our social security system so that it contributes to a just, fair and compassionate society.

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By Dina Bowman and Marcus Banks 2018

How do households with low and uncertain incomes strive to make ends meet?

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By Marcus Banks and Dina Bowman 2017

To understand why people on low incomes do or do not take out insurance we need to understand their overall financial circumstances and the multiple risks they face.

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By Seuwandi Wickramasinghe and Dina Bowman 2019

Insights from Money for Jam, a micro-enterprise initiative for older women doing it tough.

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By Dina Bowman, Shelley Mallett and Diarmuid Cooney-O’Donoghue, June 2017

In a changing employment and budgetary context, there is renewed interest in the concept of a basic income – a form of social security in which individuals receive a regular, often unconditional payment from either government or a public institution.

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Selected projects

How prevalent is poverty and financial stress in Australian children and families, and what has been the impact of COVID-19?

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Understanding patterns of financial wellbeing is a key to protecting Australians against financial distress in times of crisis.

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To tackle inequality we need to understand how issues like payment conditions and tax policies are connected and can trap single mothers in poverty.

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An ongoing project exploring how income support could be made adequate and fair the adequacy and targeting of income support

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How common are late receipt of Newstart Allowance and volatile payment amounts?

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How can ‘real-time’ data help us to understand the financial dimension of housing insecurity

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Stepping Stones offers training, mentoring and support to help women from refugee and migrant backgrounds expand their business skills and increase their participation in business and the community.

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Looking for services related to income and social security?

Given the Chance is one of our longest running and most effective employment support programs.

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Transition to Work is a training and employment program for young people living in Melbourne’s north-western and south-eastern outer suburbs.

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The ReSource Youth program empowers young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds to make informed decisions about education, employment and volunteer pathways.

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Our Youth Transitions Support Pilot Program helps young refugees participate in the community through work, education and sport.

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Creating Futures for Youth empowers young people to pursue their career goals and build their capacity to work or undertake further learning.

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Are you looking for work or wanting to broaden your work experience? BSL can help place you in a traineeship.

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Join Australia’s award winning free financial education and matched savings program and receive up to $500 for you or your children’s education.

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Go to the Money Smart website to find services that can help you.

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We offer community workers training in MoneyMinded, Australia’s largest adult financial education program.

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Our approach to working with people with disability focuses on building a sense of wellbeing and autonomy. We recognise the importance of family, friends, carers and community.

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