Everyone counts: uncovering patterns of Newstart Allowance

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

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

At a glance

This flow data shows that:

  • receiving Newstart Allowance (which preceded JobSeeker Payment) is more widespread than is generally understood
  • more than 4.4 million people received NSA at some stage between 2001 and 2016
  • the percentage of women among NSA recipients increased from 30% in 2001 to 46% in 2016
  • nearly half (46%) of recipients received at least one payment in only one or two of the 16 years, while almost 30% received payments in five years or more
  • payment suspensions, which contribute to income volatility, have increased dramatically.

Dive deeper

Our analysis of administrative social security data aimed to gain a clearer understanding of income volatility in Australia. The focus is on unemployed and underemployed Australians who received Newstart Allowance (NSA1)—a group of individuals highly exposed to the risks of financial insecurity.

The study drew on DOMINO (Data Over Multiple Individual Occurrences), a Department of Social Services database that records all interactions with Centrelink since 2001. This daily, event-based data provides an important opportunity to track individual patterns of NSA receipt over a 16-year period (2001–2016).

Our findings highlight some significant misunderstandings about the scale, scope and conditionality of Newstart Allowance receipt. While longer-term reliance on NSA is an important policy issue, short-term reliance is underestimated. An increasing share of recipients—especially women—are facing irregular payments due to suspensions. Our analysis raises questions about the extent to which the Australian social security system is fulfilling its mission to improve the lifetime wellbeing of individuals and families.

This baseline study is part of a larger research program investigating the relationship between income volatility and social security payments. The program involves researchers from the Australian National University, the Brotherhood of St. Laurence and RMIT University.

Last updated on 14 December 2020