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Targeting single mothers? Dynamics of contracting Australian employment services and activation policies at the street level



Activation reforms targeted at single parents simultaneously construct them as a legitimate target for activation policy and subject them to new obligations to engage in paid work or education/training. The social policy literature has established that the work of ‘making-up’ target groups occurs at the street level as well as in government legislation. The street level has become even more significant in recent years as there has been a shift towards establishing quasi-markets for the delivery of welfare-to-work programmes and organising these around the principles of performance pay and process flexibility. However, what is largely missing from the existing literature is an analysis of how contract conditions, together with individuals' activation obligations, shape how they are targeted at the street level. Drawing on a study conducted over eight years with agencies in Australia's quasi-market for employment services, this paper argues that the changes to the contracts for governing this market changed how Australian single mothers were targeted by employment services. Over time there was a shift away from making-up single-parent clients as a distinct, vulnerable target group and a shift towards viewing them in terms of risk categories described within the agencies’ contracts.



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Journal of Social Policy
  • ISSN: 0047-2794
  • EISSN: 1469-7823
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