The Changing Profiles Of Inequality and Exclusion In Australia

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: F204
Oral Presentation
Peter SAUNDERS , Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Melissa WONG , University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Despite evidence that income inequality has increased and is of community concern, Australian policy makers have emphasised their commitment to the ‘fair go’ but redistribution rarely features in political debate, reflecting the fears of a voter backlash in the face of reforms that involve losers as well as winners. Both major parties favour ‘growing the pie’ over ‘dividing up the slices’ yet fail to recognise that even a larger pie must be distributed fairly. Establishing how inequality has changed is complicated by definitional changes that have undermined the comparability of income distribution data, and the confusing picture portrayed by public opinion data on attitudes to inequality provides little guidance about how much actual redistribution (as opposed to how little inequality) the community is prepared to support. The emergence of social inclusion as a policy priority has given impetus to the relationship between inequality and social exclusion, although this relationship is poorly understood conceptually and inadequately documented empirically. This paper draws on a range of survey data to examine recent trends in different dimensions of economic inequality and social exclusion in Australia. Attention focuses on how the profile of social exclusion varies across the income distribution, on the extent and nature of exclusion inequality itself, and on the association between these measures (in isolation and in combination) and the subjective well-being of those affected. The paper will conclude with some reflections on the implications of the emergence of social exclusion as a policy issue on egalitarianism and the redistribution agenda.