Income and social security
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.
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 gain economic security. 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 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.
Find all recent publications on Social security (2000–present)
Visit the BSL library for our earlier research on Social security (pre 2000)
• 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.
Related external publications
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.
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Understanding which households experience energy stress is important for policy development in the context of rising energy prices and the move to decarbonise the economy.Read report
Research report Return to the family safety net? Economic security as Life Chances participants turn 30
Stage 12 of the longitudinal Life Chances study observes a noticeable trend of needing to rely on family resources.Read report
Our analysis of financial wellbeing over three time periods finds that Australians on low incomes are more exposed to risks, making them vulnerable to a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.Read report
In the third paper in the Financial Lives in Uncertain Times series, we explore trends in financial wellbeing during the fleeting period of recovery between the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.Read report
Research report Dead ends: how our social security system is failing people with partial capacity to work
Almost one-third of JobSeeker Payment recipients are people assessed with 'partial capacity to work'.Read report
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.Read report
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?Read report
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.Download guide (PDF, 281.0 KB)
Research report Stepping up for business: insights from a pilot program for migrant and refugee women
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.Read report
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.Read report
What insights about income support can be gained from daily, event-based data about recipients of Newstart Allowance from 2001 to 2016?Read report
Working paper Safety net to poverty trap? The twentieth-century origins of Australia’s uneven social security system
Tracing the history of Australia’s social security system helps us to consider what reforms are needed for the present day.Read paper
Research report Trampolines not traps: enabling economic security for single mothers and their children
What needs to change, for single mothers to be able to build a secure future for their families?Read report
Our new framework explores what is needed for all Australians to enjoy financial wellbeing.Read paper
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.Read paper
The authors propose five principles to guide and underpin our social security system so that it contributes to a just, fair and compassionate society.Read paper
How do households with low and uncertain incomes strive to make ends meet?Read report
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.Read report
Insights from Money for Jam, a micro-enterprise initiative for older women doing it tough.Read report
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.Read paper
What are the drivers and impacts of financial stress for low-income people and what are the policy implications?Learn more
How do people on lower incomes in regional, peri-urban and urban locations experience and respond to financial challenges?Learn more
What drives economic insecurity among women in regional areas and what changes to policies and systems would make a difference to their futures?Learn more
Understanding patterns of financial wellbeing is a key to protecting Australians against financial distress in times of crisis.Learn more
To tackle inequality we need to understand how issues like payment conditions and tax policies are connected and can trap single mothers in poverty.Learn more
An ongoing project exploring how income support could be made adequate and fair the adequacy and targeting of income supportLearn more
How common are late receipt of Newstart Allowance and volatile payment amounts?Learn more
How can ‘real-time’ data help us to understand the financial dimension of housing insecurityLearn more
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.Learn more
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