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 get what they need. We work with others to develop products and programs, while advocating for change.
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.
• 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
Yanotti, M, Banks, M, de Silva, A, Anantharama, N, Whiteford, P, Bowman, D & Csereklyei, Z 2021, , AHURI final report no. 351, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited, Melbourne. DOI:10.18408/ahuri5321801.
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?
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.
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.
What insights about income support can be gained from daily, event-based data about recipients of Newstart Allowance from 2001 to 2016?
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.
Tracing the history of Australia’s social security system helps us to consider what reforms are needed for the present day.
What needs to change, for single mothers to be able to build a secure future for their families?
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.
The authors propose five principles to guide and underpin our social security system so that it contributes to a just, fair and compassionate society.
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.
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.
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.