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The Illiberalism of Behavioural Conditionality: A Critique of Australia’s ‘No Jab, No Pay’ Policy


Internationally the payment of welfare benefits is increasingly being made conditional on recipients’ behaviour. Behavioural conditions and the payments to which they apply are diversifying. This article aims to contribute to the debate among scholars and policymakers over the ethics of welfare conditionality. While other assessments of the ethics of welfare conditionality have focused on the potential harm caused to vulnerable welfare recipients, this paper develops the argument that welfare conditionality is illiberal. Drawing on findings from behavioural science, it argues that relying on extrinsic motivation in the form of financial incentives is a less desirable approach to behavioural change than bolstering intrinsic motivation. The argument is illustrated with the case of the Australian ‘No Jab, No Pay’ policy, under which family payments and childcare subsidies are denied to parents whose children are not fully immunised. As behavioural conditions and the payments to which they are applied diversify, the cumulative effects of these conditions pose an underappreciated threat to citizens’ autonomy.

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Journal of Social Policy
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