Facs research news no 8 June 2001

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Table 1: Rates of participation in economic and social activities, workforce-age income support recipients, by age, July 1998 (%)



18 to 24

25 to 39

40 to 49

50 +



Economic, no social (b)














Social, no economic (b)













Sample size







(a) Multiple activities for some recipients mean that the participation rates for individual activities sum to more than the overall participation rate.

(b) For most individuals, social participation includes household activities.

Further information on the Customer Participation Survey and its findings can be obtained from: the FaCS Intranet Site under Data Map/Research/Research Data and Support/ Participation Research; or Val Pawagi, Strategic Policy and Analysis Branch, on (02) 6244 6827 or email Valerie.pawagi@facs.gov.au


Employment policies for sole parents in the UK, Netherlands and Norway

Welfare reform in Australia has raised many questions about the role of work and caring in the lives of Parenting Payment (single) recipients in particular. However, this debate is not limited to Australia. Professor Jane Millar of the University of Bath has been researching employment strategies for lone parents in several west European countries. She presented some of her findings at a seminar held in FaCS in March 2001. The presentation was based largely on a forthcoming book by Professor Millar and Karen Rowlingson (eds), Lone Parents and Unemployment: Cross-National Comparisons, Policy Press, Bristol.

Professor Millar notes that while the approach to social protection for men remains relatively stable, expectations about single women with children are changing markedly. These changing expectations have been prompted by shifting community attitudes towards income support, the wider use of family-friendly employment practices and the increased workforce participation by partnered women with children.
In most countries, reforms have involved an expectation that lone parents make the transition to employment with the help of caseworker-facilitated childcare and labour market programs. Debate in this area generally focuses on when to start program interventions, what sort of case management model to use and whether these requirements are compulsory or voluntary.
In the Netherlands, changes to the Social Assistance program have required lone parents to take part in employment or employment programs when their youngest child reaches the age of five years. Clients are assessed for their work-readiness and referred to relevant employment services by caseworkers. The program is complemented by recently introduced income disregards, a small tax credit and child care services.
These reforms represent a major shift in the policy expectations placed upon lone parents. However, this shift was not widely accepted by lone parents or the ‘street level’ bureaucrats responsible for the implementation of the program. The policy produced very low payment exit rates and one third of all lone-parent customers were exempted from work-related activities by caseworkers.
Implementation difficulties arose from the low expectations of caseworkers, a lack of suitable labour market programs and cross-agency coordination problems. At a client level, implementation difficulties arose from a preference for parenting activities above employment-related activities among the lone parents, as well as low education levels and little workforce experience. Overall, the program would appear to be more effective in improving employability than employment.
Norwegian lone parents are entitled to ‘Transitional Allowance’ while their youngest child is under age eight. Entitlements are limited to three years, but this can be extended to five years if the recipient is undertaking formal study. Furthermore, employment-related activity requirements commence when the youngest child reaches age three.
While the scheme’s labour market programs are the responsibility of the National Insurance Administration, local governments undertake the day-to-day operations. The program’s aim is to help lone parents make the transition from a passive labour market situation (only receiving benefit) to an active situation (participating in work or education).
Lone parents can meet their activity requirements in a number of ways, all voluntary. The main labour market program is called ‘Follow Up Arrangements for Lone Parents’. This program is facilitated by volunteer caseworkers, known as a ‘mediators’. Mediators are lone parents themselves. The mediator brings together information from relevant government and community agencies and organises home visits with clients, as well as social occasions with other lone parents. The program works by assessing lone parents’ needs, providing information, building client confidence, promoting social networks and making plans for future activities.
Around half of all program participants had received social assistance (alongside the Transitional Allowance). After completion of the program, only about 10 per cent were receiving social assistance and about half of the participants had changed status from passive to active benefit receipt. Participants were slower to make the transition from passive to active labour market status if they had very young children, belonged to large families or had low self-esteem.
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has implemented a number of welfare-to-work schemes as part of its New Deal package, aimed at helping lone parents and other disadvantaged groups make the transition into employment. This initiative is part of a wider package of reforms, which includes a national minimum wage, an earned income tax credit, reduced initial rates of tax and a national childcare strategy.
The New Deal programs for lone parents are voluntary and targeted at those with school-aged children. They are administered through the Employment Service. Each participant is assigned a personal advisor. It is the role of the personal advisor to give clients information about child care, training and employment services. Advisors assist in the drafting and implementation of action plans, and continue as an employment mentor after completion of the action plan. Around 200 000 lone parents have participated in the program, and around 38 per cent of these have found jobs. A further 10 per cent have taken part in some training.
Concluding remarks
Professor Millar made some concluding remarks after considering the international experience of lone parent welfare-to-work policies. She noted that in many countries, it is considered appropriate to support lone parents of children under school age, but once children reach school age, some type of employment requirement should be imposed. Professor Millar questioned whether the child’s age is an adequate measure of the child’s parenting needs and therefore the suitability of using the age of the youngest child as the criterion for imposing activity requirements.
Public opinion varies internationally, but often supports the proposition that lone parents should do work outside the home. However, support is not as strong for these measures to be compulsory. Australia and the United Kingdom are considered to be much less coercive than most western nations.
Professor Millar also noted that it is necessary to consider how these programs are implemented at the ‘street level’. Implementation issues centre on the granting of activity exemptions and the choice of public, private and voluntary provision of services. While caseworkers are commonly used for service delivery, there can be substantial differences in the model used. For example, in Norway, volunteer lone parents are used, while in the United States, private contractors are employed and paid on a case-by-case basis.
Professor Millar concluded that better results are achieved when lone-parent welfare-to-work programs include a broad range of programs tailored to the needs of the individual. She considers programs that only provide information to lone parents are of limited effectiveness. Labour market programs, in-work benefits and childcare services are the most beneficial. In particular, labour market programs benefit participants by building confidence and motivation.
Further information: Ian Morrow, Parenting and Employment Programs Branch on (02) 6244 7396 or email ian.morrow@facs.gov.au

Britain’s ‘work-based’ welfare state: lessons from the new deals

In his departmental presentation of 2 May 2001, Dr Dan Finn of the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, outlined the features of the New Deals in the British Labour Government’s work-based welfare state.

In recent years, many European governments have been modernising relationships between their benefit systems and labour markets, and creating a new type of social contract between the individual and the state. This has been in response to the OECD’s 1994 ‘Jobs Strategy’, the European Union’s ‘Employment Pact’ and other driving factors such as dramatic changes to labour markets, poverty, social exclusion and passive welfare dependency.
At the forefront of this international process of ‘welfare reform’, the British Labour Government has introduced a number of welfare-to-work policies since 1997. The objectives of these reforms are both economic and cultural. One aim is to increase the sustainable level of employment by improving the employability of more benefit claimants and placing them into work. The other is to change the culture of the benefits system towards independence and work rather than payments and dependence.
Key elements of the new welfare-to-work benefit system include:

  1. The introduction and rapid extension of a variety of New Deal programs for the unemployed and economically inactive. These programs have introduced new rights and responsibilities, and the requirement to attend interviews.

  2. The introduction of area-based employment programs (for example, employment zones and neighbourhood renewal). The Government has supplemented its New Deal programs and ‘activation’ of the benefit system with area-based employment initiatives targeted at those localities that have the highest levels of long-term unemployment and joblessness.

  3. Tax and benefit reform to ‘make work pay’. The above programs have been introduced alongside major tax and benefit reforms which, in combination with new rights at work (including the introduction of a national minimum wage), are aimed at ‘making work pay’. One of the Government’s major objectives has been to replace an ‘in-work benefit system’, paid through the Department of Social Security, with a tax credit system paid through employers and the Inland Revenue. The Government has promoted the ‘credits’ as a key element of its welfare-to-work strategy and presented these credits to the low-paid and to those out of work as ‘making work pay’ by providing a ‘minimum income guarantee’.

There have also been significant institutional changes involving new partnerships between the public, private and voluntary sectors and the recently initiated replacement of the public Employment Service by a new Working Age Agency.

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