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Insecure here, precarious there? Workfare-style welfare provision in the age of precarious employment in Aotearoa New Zealand

Aotearoa New Zealand’s adoption of workfare, beginning in the late 1980s, was designed to reduce welfare dependency and reinforce employment as the pathway to greater wellbeing. Concurrent with these policy developments in welfare provision were changes in the labour market, which led to an increase in employment arrangements that can be considered precarious. Feminist literature highlights that women are more negatively impacted by these kinds of changes to the welfare system and the labour market. In light of recent policy shifts, it is timely to draw attention to the ways in which the intersection between these two phenomena has led to increases in insecurity across different realms of life, and decreases to wellbeing overall. My research seeks to define and discuss precarious employment and workfare as significant and intersecting structural phenomena that shape lives in New Zealand, particularly of those in receipt of a benefit. This research takes a feminist approach to research in order to explore the connection between these two phenomena, and draws on both existing literature and statistical data to establish the impact of these phenomena, how many people move between workfare and precarious employment, and who these people are. Six interviews were also undertaken with insiders from New Zealand’s welfare system, including two wāhine welfare recipients, in order to see how women in receipt of welfare experience this connection. Based on this research, I argue that the prevalence of precarious employment undermines the policy imperative of employment as a pathway to increased wellbeing. I also challenge the notion of employment and the pursuit of it as an ideal source of wellbeing, as workfare and the punitive measures associated with it are a problem in and of itself. The everyday experiences of the interview participants highlight the loss of wellbeing that occurs from interactions with the workfare system and precarious employment. The interviews also illustrate the distinct problems that emerge from a lack of coordination between central and regional offices of the workfare system that undermine the capacity of the system to challenge a reliance on unsustainable employment options and a less punitive approach to welfare provision. Ultimately, I argue that the intersecting sources of marginalisation that emerge from participation in the workfare system and precarious employment need to be better understood if the problems within the welfare system are to be addressed. This is particularly vital given the ways in which both structures perpetuate intersectional inequalities that compound in the lives of women in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Type of thesis
East, D. E. (2020). Insecure here, precarious there? Workfare-style welfare provision in the age of precarious employment in Aotearoa New Zealand (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14042
The University of Waikato
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