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Income Security And Housing Social Policy Sociology Essay

The objective of this essay is to examine social policy with foremost emphasis on income security and housing policies, and how these policies have impacted on older people over time.

The essay begins with an observation of the demographic and social factors of an aged resident in Australia. It then moves on to give an understanding of social policy, with an account of the term ‘welfare state’. Next it will progress to examine, income security, then housing by highlighting the relevance, benefits and limitations of social security and housing policies.

Contemplation of historical perspectives encompassing Jamrozik’s (2009, p. 9) welfare state and post welfare state ideology shifts and reforms to be included within the essay. Finally the essay concludes by predicting future issues older people face under the current social security and housing policies.

The demographic profile of a working class aged person is an Australian born, high school educated, recently widowed, retired female, with a life expectancy of 71.1 years. She resides in social housing in an urban neighbourhood. Her income per week is $386.30 from the age pension and she has a net worth of $54,000, primarily consisting of superannuation and a car. She enjoys participating in voluntary work, is currently well and has a healthy lifestyle. She maintains regular contact with family and friends, has a wide social network and enjoys partaking in creative and recreational activities (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007, a, b, & Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2009).

The most significant social factor impacting on her life is the risk of poverty due to low income and the rising cost of living. In 2004, the Australian Council of Social Services [ACOSS] indicated that 39% of single older people experience real deprivation and hardship in everyday life, with figures in 2011 indicating that since 2000, the cost of housing has risen by 54%, water costs rose by 90% and electricity by 87.4% (ACOSS).

Defining social policy is contentious with contrasting ideologies surrounding it. One view, which Jamrozik supports, is concerned with social policy as the allocation of resources while encompassing values, objectives and goals (2009, p. 48). Another viewpoint is more linked to social welfare as the government's actions to address and improve social and economic competencies of individuals through benefit distribution which Fenna endorses (2004, p. 323). For this reason, this essay restricts its scope to social policy as: the government's intentions and the activities , through economic dispersal and access to services, to maintain and or enhance the well being of its citizens.

Australia’s welfare state is positioned in the heart of its social policies. 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). Saunders (1998, p. 1) ascertains that the welfare state is a representation of the “institutional expression of a political compromise between economic imperatives and social objective” which were negotiated in the beginnings of the 20th century. Therefore it could be argued that 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.

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, p. 161). A key issue highlighted by Hetherington (2009, p. v) in colonial times, was destitution as an enormous problem for people who had no capital; ex-convicts, indentured labourers and penniless immigrants. But, this was exacerbated as they aged and could no longer work. During the 19th century Australian society had few resources, and little to no charitable institutions leaving many older people dependent on family or the charity of others to survive (Hetherington, 2009, p. v). It was not until Federation, and the embryonic development of social welfare policy, did it begin to change for older people.

In 1901, NSW and Victoria provided State age pensions (ABS, 1988) until 1909, when the Commonwealth Government of Australia superseded them 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). This enabled older people “social functioning in the market economy” (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 61). The age pension is provided under the Social Security Act 1991 (Cwlth) and paid to people who are expected to rely on social security for extended periods of time, unlike an allowance which is paid to people on a short term basis, such as unemployment benefits (Ziguras, 2006, p. 169).

During the early welfare state years the age pension was accepted as a state responsibility; a universal and social provision entitlement, committed toward equality; providing a reasonable standard of living, paid through the redistribution of economic surplus generated from the market economy (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 9). Castles (2001, p. 10) indicated that public support for pensions was high as it was seen not as charity but as an entitlement for paying taxes over their working life.

Ziguras advises that there has never been a clear rationale for the level of income support payments, but the most fundamental aim is for the prevention of poverty (2006, p. 165). Fenna stated that the “welfare state is in considerable part about poverty” (2004, p. 325) and Mendes advocates social and economic deprivations and inequalities are significant influences on the prevalence of poverty (2012, p. 3). McClelland (2010, p. 26) on the other hand argues income support payments do not create poverty they assist people in poverty. Therefore the primary objective at the core of social security policy could be seen to alleviate rather than abolish poverty by providing payments to meet the basic requirements for survival.

Two fundamental periods of time reflect the impact of income security for older people. Firstly, the early periods of the 20th century when social security policy introduced the age pension as a non-contributory, non-discretionary and means and asset tested form of income security (Ziguras, 2006; Herscovitch & Stanton, 2008; Castles, 2001 & Fenna, 2004). It was attainable for most people over the age of 65, provided they met stringent qualification criteria (Herscovitch & Stanton, 2008; Ziguras, 2006 & Raper, 2000). The pension was, and remains, funded by general tax revenue, and a flat rate of payment applied; indexed to average weekly earnings (Fenna, 2004, p. 322).

The second period of time began with the refurbishment of social security policy, primarily undertaken in the 1970’s and continued on into the 21st century. Jamrozik (2009, p. 80) and Ziguras (2006, p. 163) advocate that 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. Social security policy has endured significant change and adaptation over the years to suit changing social conditions.

In 1985, the government’s occupational superannuation as income replacement was a major component of the reforms and seen as a move toward a self provision of income in retirement (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 82, & Fenna, 2004, p. 334). Successive governments through restructuring have instituted measures to maintain and enhance superannuation savings, increased the age pension payment by 75% since 2000, relaxed asset and income tests and established tax concessions for superannuation (Jamrozik, 2009; Herscovitch & Stanton, 2008; & Fenna, 2004).

Chenoweth (2008); Mendes (2012), and Williams (2000) signify that over the last few decades, motivated by globalisation, there has been an influence of well established universal ideologies of neoclassical economics and, neo conservatism, to change and redefine welfare in Australia. The age pension today reflects the post welfare state’s ideology of minimalism; with selective entitlement and reduced social expenditure, where inequality is natural, and the responsibility of the age pension is an unfortunate necessity (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 9).

Jamrozik (2009, p. 148) 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. Older Australians value stable, secure, affordable accommodation that facilitates maximum levels of independent living for as long as possible (Cavanaugh & Blanchard – Fields, 2011, pp. 158 - 9 & Jamrozik, 2009, 271-2 ).

In the 1980’s, the government introduced the Home and Community Care program which was designed to provide increased funding for an expanded range of support services such as home adaptation and home care (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 272). Community support policies and programs allow people who would have spent the remainder of their lives in residential care settings in the past to remain in their own home environment longer (Cavanaugh & Blanchard – Fields, 2011, p. 158).

Life transitions associated with changes in levels of physical and economic independence, or personal circumstances may lead to changes in living arrangements and accommodation needs (Cavanaugh & Blanchard – Fields, 2011, p. 158). Not all older people own their own home and many rely on social housing, which are rental properties owned and managed by the states and territories, by non-profit organisations, or a combination of the two.

Social policy for housing began predominately after the Second World War to combat the lack of available housing in the private rental market and the affordability of housing for low income households including older people (Atkinson & Jacobs, 2008, p. 4). Social policy concentrated on construction by providing initiatives of low interest loans to the states and territories through the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement for the purpose of housing projects including the construction of social housing. The private building industry gradually restricted government construction of housing solely for low income households (Playford, 2001, para 2 & Atkinson & Jacobs, 2008, p. 4)

Stigma abounds for tenants of social housing as they are often viewed as being a burden on resources (Yates, 1996, p 6 & Jacobs & Arthurson, 2012, para 1), and social housing is perceived as a failed endeavour that accentuated poverty and social disadvantage (Atkinson & Jacobs, 2008, p. 3). Jacobs & Arthurson, (2012, para. 6) advocate that social policy had, unintentionally, reinforced a sense of social division through under investment and the allocation of housing to the most disadvantaged and marginalised tenants. However, Yates (1996, p. 6) indicated that social housing offers protection from poverty through the provision of adequate shelter which can provide security, stability and a sense of community – all important factors for older people.

The Commonwealth housing policy predominately focuses on financial assistance and stimulating the private housing market (Jamrozik, 2009, p. 268 ) The social housing policy provides the benefit to older people on low incomes to live independently in affordable social housing or be assisted in locating accommodation to suit their needs in the private rental market ( Atkinson & Jacobs, 2008, p. 4).

As we look to the future, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the potential fiscal and social challenges Australia faces as the population ages. The ABS (2009 ) projected that by 2056, older people will represent 23-25% of the population. In 2012/2013, the Australian government will spend $36,760 million on income support for the 70% of Australians currently receiving the age pension (Swan, 2012, statement 6, box 1 and table 3.1).

This forecast is crucial when balancing the short and long term challenges of income support, housing and other service provisions for older people especially as they are particularly susceptible to variations impacting their income and living situations. The responsibility is on the government to explore, develop and implement strategies now to safeguard the next generations of older peoples’ futures.

Construction of housing is a slow process and this could present a challenge as the population ages, as current stocks may not be appropriate to meet the needs, degenerating the situation. Development of new housing options to better meet the requirements through generating a greater diversity of housing options is required. It is essential for governments to provide sufficient public housing, not just for current demand but to lessen the projected future pressures for suitable housing, especially for older people receiving pensions.

In conclusion, the predicted outlook of the population trajectory will impact on all aspects of social and economic life as the proportion of older people in the community increase they consequently impact on economic growth and government expenditure such as the age pension and services. We need to look at the past, identify mistakes, address them and be better prepared for the future, to ensure our aspirations for retirement are achievable.

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