A significant new direction in Australian income support policy was introduced in 2002. Known as Australians Working Together, this development changed the basis of social security entitlement for parents. Throughout most of the twentieth century, low-income sole mothers, and later sole fathers and parents in couple families, could claim income support throughout most of their children’s school years. The primary grounds for their entitlement were low income and parenting responsibilities. Australians Working Together introduced compulsory employment-oriented activities to Parenting Payment entitlement for parents whose youngest child had turned 13.
This thesis investigates mothers’ experience of this new welfare system. Using Dorothy Smith’s ‘everyday life’ approach to research, it draws upon qualitative and quantitative methods to analyse Australians Working Together. The research is grounded in a longitudinal interview survey of Australian mothers of teenage children who were subject to these changes. The analysis moves from their experience outwards through the four levels of analysis in Williams and Popay’s welfare research framework. The thesis examines mothers’ day-to-day worlds, the opportunities and constraints they navigate, the policies and institutions which shape their opportunities, the political framing of those policies, and wider social and economic transformations.
In their negotiation of the social security system, mothers are striving for recognition of autonomy and care. They want their capacity to determine for themselves how to live their lives to be acknowledged. They would like the social contributions they make through employment, education and voluntary work to be recognised. They struggle for their unpaid work caring for their families to be valued. They wish that they had sufficient material resources to care well for their families. The thesis develops a theoretical framework to examine these struggles drawing on the work of Honneth, Fraser, Lister, Sennett, Fisher and Tronto, Daly and Lewis. This multi-level, everyday life analysis reveals the possibility of reframing the social security system around mutual respect.