Friday, April 11, 2008

Fred Argy's question - Equality of opportunity: is more policy intervention needed?

Fred Argy posed this question on Club Troppo. His post is a thoughtful one and worth reading, as are the comments.

I do not want to write a long post tonight, nor provide evidence to support my views. I just want to express an opinion.

The emergence of entrenched inequality in Australia that carries through generations is something that worries me.

I am not talking about the headlines here such as the current concern with homelessness. Rather, the pattern that is shown by things such as the social atlases based on the 2006 census data.

To my mind, policy intervention is needed. However, I am far from convinced that we have the either the policy structures or supporting mechanisms to target and integrate that intervention in the ways required.

The pattern of inequality is a complex one that varies greatly across Australia. The responses to it are siloed, split into different policy domains essentially dictated by the type of policy field. Integration is poor.

Let me try to illustrate with an example.

Homelessness means simply not having a permanent place to stay. The reasons vary greatly.

A disproportionate proportion suffer from some form of mental illness. There is a strong connection here to health policy.

A significant proportion are linked in some way to family break-up. This goes to social changes.

In dealing with homelessness we need to achieve proper articulation in housing policy to give people the chance to move from emergency accommodation through to permanent accommodation.

We also need a variety of support mechanisms along the way.

However, while both are important, neither will solve the problem without action to address underlying causes.

As a second example, consider Centrelink benefits.

I do not know how many readers have looked at them. They are in fact remarkably low, but the effect of that lowness depends upon your family circumstance and location. Their impact also depends upon your ability to access social or other form of low cost housing.

The benefits structure has disincentives built in.

Consider the case of a person on Newstart renting privately or in community housing. As he or she earns, the benefit declines, cutting out at a particular point.

So long as that person gets some Newstart they can get Commonwealth Rent Assistance. Lose the benefit and they lose CRA. This can create a very substantial disincentive.  

As I said, I do not want to address all this in detail tonight. Consider this another opening shot.  

No comments: