Peter Fisher, Treasury under-secretary in George W. Bush’s administration, once memorably described the US government as “a gigantic insurance company (with a sideline business in national defense and homeland security),” a characterisation that could be applied to most high-income countries. In Australia, spending on social security and welfare — “insurance,” as Fisher would say — accounts for more than a third of Commonwealth federal government spending. Add in healthcare and it rises to more than 50 per cent of total Commonwealth expenditure, about nine times the amount spent on defence.
During any fortnight, more than five million Australians, or roughly a quarter of the adult population, receive an income-tested social security payment — an age pension, a disability support pension, Newstart, a carer’s payment, a parenting payment or one of seven other categories of income support. Around another 855,000 families have their income supplemented by family tax benefits, and 900,000 or so families, many of them not receiving social security benefits or other family payments, are assisted with childcare costs.
SOURCE: Peter Whiteford, “Why social policy counts.” Inside Story, 30 November 2018.
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia