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The Social Policy Institute at the Crawford School of the ANU runs a series of workshops exploring major social policy concerns. The workshops are run on the Chatham House rule and involve invited academics, researchers, public servants and others from the policy community.
The workshops are jointly hosted by the Social Policy Institute at the Crawford School of Public Policy, the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute at the Crawford School (TTPI) and the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, with the support of the Australian Social Policy Association.
On 15 October 2021, Peter Whiteford of the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University and Bruce Bradbury of the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales presented their research on “What’s Going On? Unemployment and Income Support – before and after COVID-19”.
For most of the past 40 years, changes in the number of persons on unemployment benefits and changes in the unemployment rate track reasonably consistently over time (ABS 2014a). This relationship has changed significantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In February 2020, there were around 50,000 more people receiving payments than ABS unemployed, but by May 2020 this difference was around 730,000. Both the numbers of unemployed and the number on unemployment-related payments have since fallen significantly, but in August 2021 the difference was still more than 460,000 people, a difference three times greater than in any year before COVID (and nearly six times the average difference in the 12 months preceding COVID).
There is a further challenge in understanding these developments. The ABS Survey of Income and Housing (SIH) identifies individuals by their labour force status and their receipt of social security payments, allowing more direct comparisons of differences between labour market status and benefit receipt. Studies using the SIH (ABS, 2014a; Vandenbroek, 2019) show that a large majority of the unemployed (around 70%) do not receive the major unemployment-related payments. In brief, more people receive unemployment payments than the ABS measure as unemployed, but most of the unemployed do not receive these benefits.
This presentation explored the differences between these important indicators of labour market trends in Australia, highlighting changes in social security policy over time that contribute to these differences, and seeking to identify factors associated with the further divergence since 2020. It discussed the implications of these differences for analysis of the state of the Australian labour market, the assessment of the wellbeing of disadvantaged groups, as well as implications for working-age social security payments.