Part 2: Achievements and challenges–performance insights

Building the evidence base

Key points
  • Data collection for the Growing Up in Australia: Longitudinal Study of Australian Children(LSAC) commenced.
  • Data from the second wave of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey were released to more than 200 researchers and analysts.
  • Significant contributions were made to parliamentary committee inquiries on child custody arrangements and participation in paid work.

Social policy research

Understanding the social trends making an impact on Australian society, and finding evidence of the policies that work and why, are critical to FaCS' policy advising and implementation. Social policy research supports the creation of this knowledge.

Research findings have deepened our understanding of key social policy issues and enriched our contribution to social policy debates. Key research outcomes in 2003–04 are outlined below.

Milestones in the development of our longitudinal initiatives

  • In March 2004, data collection from 10 000 families of babies and four-year-olds across Australia commenced as part of the first wave of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC).
  • In January 2004, the second wave of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey was released, including new data on the wealth of Australian households and changes in household income over the twelve months between late 2001 and late 2002. The first wave of HILDA data was collected in the second half of 2001. The same people were interviewed again for the second wave of HILDA in late 2002.
  • The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC) is being developed, including formation of a steering committee chaired by Professor Mick Dodson. Consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities on the design and content of the study began across Australia.
  • A longitudinal administrative data set on workforce-age customers was created, with income support and jobseeker data, as part of the collaborative jobseeker data project jointly undertaken by FaCS and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR).
  • The complete three-year data set from our General Customer Survey (GCS) for respondents first interviewed in 2001 was released. The GCS is a longitudinal survey that has collected a broad range of information from three cohorts of respondents (those first interviewed in 2000, 2001 and 2002) constituting a representative sample of FaCS customers.

Early findings from FaCS' investments in data

  • Early longitudinal data analysis from HILDA showed that:
    • around 70 per cent of people employed at some time in the 12 months between late 2001 and late 2002 were continuously employed with the same employer, while about one-quarter ceased at least one job during this period
    • around 60 per cent of people in the lowest 10 per cent of the income scale (after-tax incomes) in 2001 moved above the lowest decile in 2002, while around 50 per cent of individuals in the highest 10 per cent of the income scale in 2001 moved below the highest decile in 2002
    • the median level of household net worth in Australia is around $186 500 (comprising about $203 000 of assets minus about $17 000 of debts, including mortgages)
    • the wealthiest 10 per cent of households own almost 45 per cent of total household wealth
    • middle-aged working households hold more wealth than do younger households or retired households because they have had the opportunity to save for many years, have not yet retired and have not yet drawn down on their savings
    • HILDA is informing FaCS' understanding of wealth and debt in the community and people's attitudes to wellbeing and participation.
  • Early data from the LSAC pilot test that questioned 500 families in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland highlighted the diversity of information that will be provided by the study, including:
    • around 96 per cent of parents rated their child's health as being 'good', 'very good' or 'excellent'
    • around 96 per cent of four-year-olds are read to by someone in their family at least once a week, with 59 per cent reporting that this happened daily
    • around 89 per cent of parents of four-year-olds who have educational or child care arrangements for their child reported satisfaction with these arrangements
    • around 59 per cent of four-year-olds spend time with their grandparents weekly or more frequently.
      The LSAC database is expected to become a major element of the evidence base for policy and practice regarding children and their families and will help inform the National Agenda for Early Childhood.
  • The FaCS Longitudinal Data Set (LDS) contains fortnightly data on FaCS income support and non–income support customers extracted from Centrelink operational databases. A study on part-time work using data from the LDS found that people who had earnings while they were on income support were more likely to move off income support altogether and less likely to return to income support once they had left the system.

Sharing of research and data

  • As at June 2004, over 200 researchers and analysts were licensed to use the first and second waves of HILDA survey data.
  • More than 40 research papers have been produced by Australian and international academics using HILDA data.
  • The Australian Conference of Economists in late 2003 devoted a session to research papers drawing on HILDA data.
  • The Globalisation, Families and Work conference, organised by Families Australia and held in early 2004, included a number of papers on work and family issues using HILDA data.

Research collaborations

  • FaCS currently has four-year Social Policy Research Services (SPRS) agreements with three university research institutions to provide ongoing, independent and high-quality social policy research. The institutions are the Social Policy Evaluation, Analysis and Research (SPEAR) Centre at the Australian National University, the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) at the University of New South Wales, and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne. In late 2003, FaCS commenced a tender process for the 2005–09 SPRS funding round.
  • FaCS is an industry partner with the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and SPEAR in an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant project investigating the dynamics of low incomes, welfare reliance and changes in the family structure of parents with dependent children.
  • FaCS is a major industry partner with SPEAR, Centrelink, the University of Melbourne and the University of Wisconsin in a five-year ARC Linkage Grant research initiative, which is expected to shed new light on the causes and patterns of intergenerational welfare dependence in the Australian community.
  • FaCS has continued its partnership with state and territory governments on youth-specific research through its contribution to, and active participation in, the National Youth Affairs Research Scheme, which has been in operation for almost twenty years. In 2003–04, four projects were in train and three new studies were commissioned.

Evaluation work

  • The evaluation of the Australians Working Together (AWT) package, which is currently under way, will broadly assess the impact of AWT on the main target groups–mature-age, parents, people with disabilities and Indigenous customers. The evaluation will also assess the effectiveness of specific measures introduced as part of the AWT package and aims to provide evidence for further policy development as part of the welfare reform process.
  • The evaluation of the case-based funding trial has been used to develop a package of measures to improve employment services for people with disabilities.

Building on previous work

Research being produced by SPEAR is using the first and second waves of HILDA to assess the impact of social participation on economic activities and personal outcomes for recipients of income support. This work is building on the analysis and results of similar research using data from the Welfare Reform Pilots.

Contributions to parliamentary committees and inquiries

The department has continued to make significant contributions to parliamentary committees through the committee inquiry process. A number of inquiries into aspects of Australia's social policy were undertaken during 2003–04 and FaCS was pleased to be able to participate in this process. As the key Australian Government agency responsible for shaping social policies, FaCS is able to draw on a large body of expertise in providing assistance and information to parliamentary committees.

In 2002–03, FaCS contributed to a number of committee inquiries, including:

  • the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Ageing Inquiry into Long Term Strategies to Address the Ageing of the Australian Population over the Next 40 Years
  • the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Inquiry into Poverty and Financial Hardship
  • the Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services Inquiry into the Level of Banking and Financial Services in Rural, Regional and Remote Areas of Australia.

Furthermore, we were commended for our input into the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Inquiry into Capacity Building in Indigenous Communities.

This year's work has focused on submissions to the following committee inquiries:

  • House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs Inquiry into Child Custody Arrangements in the Event of Family Separation FaCS contributed a number of detailed and extensive submissions to this inquiry, and appeared before the committee to give further evidence on a number of occasions. FaCS' submissions focused on providing the committee with an understanding of the complexity and dynamic nature of contemporary Australian families; the range of family relationships services available to families and children with relationship difficulties; and information about policy issues and administration of the Child Support Scheme.
  • House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations Inquiry into Employment: Increasing Participation in Paid Work FaCS is strongly committed to increasing participation in paid work because of the positive impact that employment has on the wellbeing of individuals and families. Not only does paid work contribute to family and retirement income and help protect against financial hardship, but children generally have better outcomes if their parents work. The FaCS submission described some key social and labour market trends, which show that there is considerable scope for increasing the participation levels of people on income support. It then discussed the role FaCS plays in supporting participation across the life cycle through programs aimed at building capacity at the individual, family and community level. Finally, the submission surveyed evidence that shows that the most effective way to increase participation is by effectively balancing appropriate assistance, incentives and requirements.

FaCS contributed to other inquiries during 2003–04. Further detail is in Volume two, Part two, 'Ministerial and parliamentary services'

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© Commonwealth of Australia, 2005 | Last modified 11 February 2005