Being on the benefit an unhappy time for almost 60pc, survey shows

The stigma of relying on a benefit was upsetting for many people, new research shows.


The stigma of relying on a benefit was upsetting for many people, new research shows.

More than half of beneficiaries are unhappy about having to relying on the system for an income, research from Victoria University shows.

Research by Development Studies student Alicia Sudden explored the experiences of people who have come off a benefit, either temporarily or permanently, since changes to the welfare system in July 2013.

The 2013 reforms introduced three primary benefits—Jobseeker Support, Sole Parent Support, and Supported Living Payment for sickness, injury or disability—and focused on getting people into employment with new requirements around job seeking.

Sudden surveyed and interviewed nearly 250 current and former beneficiaries and found only 37 per cent had gone on to full-time employment.

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Another one in five were employed in part-time, casual or temporary work, or were self-employed, 17 per cent were studying, 21 per cent were back on the benefit and 3.4 per cent had no income.

Sudden said almost 60 per cent of those who were no longer on a benefit remembered being unhappy, or very unhappy, while they were on it.

“I found that being on a benefit made them feel like they had failed and felt bad about themselves. They were trying to improve their outcomes, have a better life and be employed, but felt they were made to feel bad because they hadn’t succeeded yet.”

As well as the financial difficulties they encountered, she said they were strongly affected by social withdrawal and the stigma of being a beneficiary.

“Rather than feeling like they could continue to participate in society, they expressed feelings of deliberate isolation,” Sudden said.

People who had returned to a benefit reported lower happiness and life satisfaction than those in employment or studying—only 35 per cent described feeling happy, and 43 per cent felt dissatisfied with their lives.

Many of the participants felt the systematic approach of the welfare system made it harder for them to find appropriate employment or up-skill.

“They felt it was incompatible with the complexity and reality of life, and instability in case manager relationships fluctuated their treatment levels,” she said.  “A strong theme that emerged was the need for the system to be more relationship-based with stronger communication, to get a better understanding of individual needs.”

The study also found that the welfare system and the difficulties in finding employment had a negative impact on participants’ wellbeing and self-esteem.

 “Employment was in many ways a positive factor in their lives,” Sudden said. “However, there were also high rates of financial hardship and insecurity that had adverse impacts on wellbeing amongst those who were employed. The kind of jobs they were getting may not be right or make them better off.”

 – Stuff

First published at: August 11, 2016 at 03:55AM.
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