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Foundations In Social Policy Social Work Essay

People aged 65 and older are the focal group to be discussed within this essay; their demographic and social factors investigated to construct a representative observation of an aged resident in Australia. The main focus of the essay surrounds social policy on income security and housing for aged people. A literature review conducted to highlight the relevance, benefits and limitations of the policies. Key elements to be encompassed within the essay include Jamrozik’s (2009) theoretical framework for analysis of social policy and historical and modern perspectives reflecting on Jamrozik’s (2009) welfare state and post welfare state ideology shifts and reforms.

The demographic profile of a conventional aged person - based on information from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (AIHW, 2007a, b), and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, (ABS, 2009); is an Australian born, educated, middle class, retired female, with a life expectancy of 71.1 years. She lives in an urban area, close to the coast with her husband in their own mortgage free home. Her income per fortnight is $582.40 from the age pension, and she shares a net worth of $734,000 primarily consisting of the family home and a car with her husband. She enjoys travelling and participating in voluntary work, has a healthy lifestyle; with no serious physical, mental or medical impairments. Social factors pertinent to her consist of maintaining a wide social network, regular contact with family and friends, and partaking in leisure, cultural, creative and recreational activities.

Income security is vital for everyone but perhaps more imperative to older people as they depart the workforce reducing their ability to earn income (Ziguras, 2006). In colonial times, destitution was an enormous problem for people who had no capital; the ex-convicts, indentured labourers and penniless immigrants but especially as they got older and could no longer work (Hetherington, 2009). During the 19th century Australian society had few resources, and little to no charitable institutions leaving many older people to rely on family or the charity of others to survive (Hetherington, 2009). It was not until Federation, and the embryonic development of social welfare policy, did it begin to change for older people.

Over a century ago, in 1909, the Commonwealth Government of Australia superseded the 1900 State age pensions of NSW and Victoria (ABS, 1988) by implementing its first form of income security through social welfare policy to ensure the “physical survival” (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 61) of older people by introducing social security payments, known as the Age Pension (Fenna, 2004, Jamrozik, 2009; Ziguras, 2006, & Herscovitch & Stanton, 2008), to enable older people “social functioning in the market economy” (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 61).

Social policy, as identified by Fenna (2004) and Jamorik (2009), is a process concerned with the allocation of society’s resources to benefit individuals to improve their social and economic competencies in order to achieve a standard of living and ensure access to essential services.

At the centre of social policy lies the welfare state; Fenna describes the welfare state as a framework of government policies and programs designed to ensure individuals, as a right of citizenship, to have acceptable levels of economic welfare and access to necessary programs (2004, p. 323)The traditional goal of the welfare state was to provide income support to those unable to earn enough in the labour market to meet their own needs (Saunder, 2000).

During the welfare state years the age pension was accepted as a state responsibility; a universal and social provision entitlement, a commitment toward equality; providing a reasonable standard of living, paid from the excesses of a free market economy (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 9).

The age pension was non-contributory, non-discretionary and means and asset tested (Ziguras, 2006; Herscovitch & Stanton, 2008; Castles, 2001 & Fenna, 2004). It was attainable for most people over 65 years, provided they met qualification criteria and was granted based on demonstrated need (Herscovitch & Stanton, 2008; Ziguras, 2006 & Raper, 2000). There was a sense of having contributed to it by paying taxes over their working life; public support for pensions was high and it attracted little to no stigmatisation (Ziguras, 2006; Castles, 2001),

Pension were, and remain funded by general tax revenue, and a flat rate of payment applied; indexed to average male weekly earnings (Fenna, 2004, & Ziguras, 2006). Income support accounts for the largest item in social expenditure in a budget (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 138). The Australian government will spend 35% of its $131.6 billion dollar budget on social security and welfare in 2012/2013, with $36,760 million spent on income support for the 70% of Australians receiving the age pension (Swan, 2012, statement 6, box 1 and table 3.1).

The main intention of the age pension is to provide an adequate safety net payment in order to meet the basic requirements for survival (Jamrozik, 2009). According to Ziguras there has never been a clear rational for the level of income support payments, but the most fundamental aim is for the prevention of poverty (2006, p. 165). Poverty has been at the core of social policy on welfare payments with their primary objective to alleviate poverty, and many of the social security policy’s core elements have not changed since 1909 (Fenna, 2004, Jamrozik, 2009 & Herscovitch & Stanton, 2008); social security system's functionality contemplates individuals and interest groups, the orientation of particular governments and changes over time (Ziguras, 2006). Mendes (2012) advocates social and economic deprivation and inequality are significant influences on the prevalence of poverty, while McClelland (2010) suggests income support payments do not create poverty they assist people in poverty.

The age pension has undergone change and reform since Federation (Jamrozik, 2009; Ziguras, 2006, ABS, 1988, & Fenna, 2004) especially when the refurbishment of the welfare state began in the early 1970’s ; the Labor government undertook substantial, radical changes to move away from primary welfare and concentrated on social consumption and social participation (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 80) The philosophy of social protection and principle of entitlement gave way to the philosophy of enablement and the principle of mutual obligation (Fenna, 2004, p. 319).

Social policy on income security for aged people has endured significant change and adaptation over the years to suit changing social conditions, to achieve an adequate standard of living and a capacity to productively manage resources with the focus of social policy more closely linked to economic priorities and more market conforming (Fenna, 2004; Zepezauer, 2004 & Jamrozik, 2009). The major component of the reforms affecting older people, was the creation, in 1985, of the government system of occupational superannuation as income replacement and a move toward a self provision of income in retirement (Jamrozik, 2009, ABS, 1988, & Fenna, 2004).

Successive governments through restructuring have instituted measures to maintain and enhance superannuation savings, controlled age pension costs, relaxed asset and income tests and established tax concessions for superannuation (Saunders, 2002; Jamrozik, 2009; Herscovitch & Stanton, 2008 & Fenna, 2004).

The gradual dismantling has seen welfare and income security no longer a social right as social policy. Over the last two decades, there has been an influence of well established universal ideologies of neoclassical economics and, neo conservatism, influenced by globalisation, to change and redefine welfare in Australia; (Chenoweth, 2008; Mendes, 2012, & Williams, 2000). The structure of social security policy for older people continues to be part of an ongoing and evolving process (Jamrozok, 2009). The age pension today reflects the post welfare state minimalist approach with the state accepting inequality is natural, and the responsibility of the age pension as an unfortunate necessity, with selective entitlement and social expenditure reduced (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 9).

Jamrozik (2009) indicates that income security also includes well-being, and for older people, their quality of life depends on the availability of human and material infrastructure of services such as housing and aged care services. As we get older, housing needs change, we may need support to be able to continue to live in own home, or we may want to move into housing more suited to our needs, and a sustainable level of income is required (Cavanaugh & Blanchard – Fields, 2011)..

The owner occupied home is exempted from the means test (Ziguras, 2006) and traditionally older people prefer to remain in their own surroundings for as long as possible and only look to aged care accommodation when they are forced to do so because of health or financial issues (Jamrozik, 2009) Older Australians value stable, secure, affordable accommodation that facilitates maximum levels of independent living for as long as possible (Cavanaugh & Blanchard – Fields, 2011).

In 1995, the government introduced the Home and Community Care (HACC) program designed to provide increased funding for an expanded range of support services such as home adaptation and home care for people to remain living independent lives in their own homes (Jamrozik, 2009). Community support policies and programs allow people who would have spent the remainder of their lives in residential care settings in the past, such as nursing homes, to remain in own home longer (Cavanaugh & Blanchard – Fields, 2011).

Not all older people own their own homes. As people age, they experience various life transitions associated with changes in levels of physical and economic independence, and personal circumstance, which may lead to changes in their living arrangements and accommodation needs (Cavanaugh & Blanchard – Fields, 2011).

Problems of low income households in the private rental market and the availability of affordable housing became a significant issue early on after the Second World War (Atkinson & Jacobs, 2008). To combat this, social policy on housing, concentrated on the reconstruction and initiatives and the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement (CSHA) provided low interest loans to the states for housing projects such as public housing (Playford, 2001 & Yates, 1996). The Commonwealth housing policy consists predominately around forms of financial assistance, primarily focussed on stimulating the private housing market (Jamrozik, 2009).

As time progressed the private building industry became assertive and public housing activity gradually restricted to providing housing solely for low income households (Yates, 1996; Atkinson & Jacobs, 2008). This led to public housing shrouded in stigma and often viewed as a drain on resources (Yates, 1996 & Jacobs & Arthurson, 2012), and a failed endeavour that has accentuated poverty and social disadvantage (Atkinson & Jacob, 2008). Social policy, unintentionally, through under investment in social housing and allocation of housing to the most disadvantaged and marginalised tenants has reinforced a sense of social division (Jacobs & Arthurson, 2012). Yates (1996), however, indicated that public housing offers protection from poverty; provide a physically adequate level of shelter and can provide security and stability.

Over the ensuing years, housing policy and programs have undertaken adjustment to meet the affordability and increase availability. Decentralisation , urban renewal and environmental sustainability have all been at the heart of social policy and programs for housing (Playford, 2001). The social housing policy provides the benefit to older people on low income support to live independently either through social housing or assistance in finding suitable and affordable housing in the private market.

In conclusion, income security for older people has been available since the beginning of the 20th century and has encountered minimal change and reform. The introduction of the retirement income policy has seen the government take steps towards older people having secure futures. Housing policy has remained, per sec, stable since the end of World War Two and the availability and affordability in the public housing sector has assisted older people to achieve suitable accommodation. The introduction of HACC has enabled older people to remain home longer through the provision of services.

Australia's population is ageing; in 2009 the ABS projected that by 2056, older aged people will represent 23-25% of the population, and this presents potential fiscal challenges for governments to provide programs, policies, and services that benefit the quality of life of the citizens (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 1). This forecast is crucial when weighing up the future requirements of income support, housing, health, aged care and other service provisions.

Housing increases slowly, presenting a challenge which will grow with the ageing population, current stocks will not be appropriate to meet the needs. Development of new housing options to better meet the requirements through greater diversity of housing options is required. Governments need to provide sufficient public and community housing, not just for current demand but to lessen the projected future pressures for suitable housing, especially for older people receiving low incomes.

The predicted outlook of the population trajectory will impact on all aspects of social and economic life as both the number and proportion of older people in the community increase they consequently impact on economic growth and government expenditure such as the age pension and programs and services for older people.

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