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Journal Articles

My research is cross-disciplinary, looking at different areas that relate to the constraints that shape the ability of people to live a life that they have reason to value. Of central concern in this work are issues related to inequality and disadvantage for people in modern society. Some of my work is aimed at addressing the structures that produce inequality and disadvantage. This includes understanding the role that the state plays and also the role that organisations can play in supporting people and improving their lives.

What is in a form? Examining the complexity of application forms and administrative burden

Analysis of the welfare state emphasises that access to social security support is a key component of the relationship between the state and the citizen. Recent literature has identified administrative burden as a concept that helps us to understand an emerging dynamic between the state and the citizen, where citizens must deal with increasingly onerous administrative ‘costs’ in order to access services or support from the state. Increased administrative burden has been identified at many stages of access to social security support and government services. Burdens are often talked about in general terms, that is, the amount of administrative complexity associated with a particular welfare service. In this paper, we look at how administrative burden can be found in even the smallest unit of administration—application forms. Taking a form from the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), we contribute to the growing literature on application forms and administrative burden by developing a framework to assess the complexity of questions on an application form. We show that in areas where citizens lives are complex, questions on forms can constrain the capacity of citizens to accurately represent their circumstances and, in turn, constrain their ability to gain access to support.

Image by Leon Dewiwje

From me to us: Strengthening our Financial Capabilities

For low-income or precariously employed households in Australia, the re-allocation of risk over the past forty years has four crucial economic dimensions: the fraying of the social security net; changes in labour market dynamics; heightened uncertainty arising from income volatilities; and new hazards generated by the financialisation of daily life. Household financial capabilities are negatively influenced by the compounding impacts of each of these risks. Case examples from a BSL study illustrate each impact and their interactions. The dominant idea that individual capabilities are malleable (and thus can be optimised) whilst circumstances and norms are fixed is countered by an expanded view of Sen’s/Nussbaum’s capability approach (CA) that includes collective capabilities. Collective capabilities can change norms, and so, the concept provides a needed link between the political and macroeconomic movement of risk re-allocation and individual or household financial capabilities. The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union is used as an example to show how collective action can challenge structural conditions, and expand or protect the capabilities of individuals.

Image by Markus Spiske

Welfare capabilities: Evaluating distributional inequalities and welfare policy in advanced democracies

While the welfare state literature has made great advances in describing and explaining policy, comparatively less time has been spent systematically examining the outcomes of those welfare policies. Prominent debates have largely centred on the extent to which welfare states have been retrenched and whether they can be effectively classified by regime type. This article argues that while such debates have resulted in valuable theoretical and empirical advances, there is both a need and an opportunity to focus more closely on the outcomes of welfare policy. We propose using the ‘capability approach’ as an evaluative framework to consider differences in outcomes across mature welfare states. The approach, as operationalised here, regards the real-world opportunities that individuals hold, rather than only the material resources provided to them, as being essential to understanding their welfare. The article uses a new capabilities-oriented measure of welfare to make a preliminary evaluation of the outcomes associated with different types of welfare policy regimes. The measure emphasises distributional inequalities associated with the domains of health, education and the economic conditions experienced by individuals. We apply it to 18 advanced welfare states using data sourced from the 2016 wave of the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Better Life Index.

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