Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Neoliberal Production of Deserving and Undeserving Poor: A Critique of the Australian Experience of Microfinance

  • Catherine Mackenzie (a1) and Jonathon Louth (a2)


Neoliberalism as economic orthodoxy has facilitated the onset of social and public policy that is required to ‘fit’ with the common sense of our times. This article critiques the growth of government-supported financial capability programs in Australia. We explore the experiences of a sample of rural South Australians who have accessed microcredit. We found that microcredit provides an avenue for poverty survival by reducing the stresses associated with financial shocks through consumption smoothing, yet that the extent to which microcredit contributes to addressing poverty and inequality is questionable. We critique how the discourse of financial resilience aims to produce deserving neoliberal citizens who are moving toward self-reliance. We conclude that effort should be directed at developing a structural, proportionate universal approach that does not rely on financially vulnerable individuals navigating a regulatory environment that rewards and punishes in accordance to a market logic.



Hide All
Argent, B. (2017) UnitingCare Wesley Country SA Micro Credit Loans - History, Port Pirie: UnitingCare Wesley Country SA.
Australian and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) (2004) A Report on Financial Exclusion in Australia, [accessed 20.12.2017].
Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) (2016) ‘Poverty in Australia 2016’, in Poverty and Inequality in Australia Series, Strawberry Hills: Australian Council of Social Service and the Social Policy Research Centre.
Australian Government (2016) Review of the Small Amount Credit Contract Laws: Final Report, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (2017) Australia’s Welfare 2017. Australia’s Welfare Series No. 13. AUS 214, Canberra: AIHW, [accessed 10.06.2018].
Australian Securities and Investment (ASIC) (2014) National Financial Literacy Strategy 2014-17, Commission, ASIC report 403, Canberra: ASIC.
Australian Securities and Investment (ASIC) (2017) National Financial Literacy Strategy Consultation, 2017, Australian Securities and Investment Commission, Consultation Paper 295, October, Canberra: ASIC.
Awaworyi Churchill, S. and Nuhu, A. (2016) ‘What has failed: microfinance or evaluation methods?’, Journal of Sustainable Finance and Investment 6, 2, 8594.
Baker, T. and Davis, C. (2018) ‘Everyday resistance to workfare: welfare beneficiary advocacy in Auckland, New Zealand’, Social Policy and Society, 17, 4, 535–46.
Banks, M., Marston, G., Russell, R. and Karger, H. (2015) ‘“In a perfect world it would be great if they didn’t exist”: how Australians experience payday loans’, International Journal of Social Welfare, 24, 1, 3747.
Barinaga, E. (2014) ‘Microfinance in a developed welfare state: a hybrid technology for the government of the outcast’, Geoforum, 51, 2736.
Berry, C. (2015) ‘Citizenship in a financialised society: financial inclusion and the state before and after the crash’, Policy and Policy, 43, 4, 509–25.
Brimble, B. and Blue, L. (2013) ‘Tailored financial literacy education: an indigenous perspective’, Journal of Financial Literacy Education, 18, 3, 2017–219.
Buckland, J. (2018) Building Financial Resilience: Do Credit and Finance Schemes Serve or Impoverish Vulnerable People?, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Burchardt, T. and Hick, R. (2017) ‘Inequality and the capability approach’, CASEpapers, London: Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics.
Burkett, I. and Sheehan, G. (2009) From the Margins to the Mainstream: The Challenges for Microfinance in Australia, Fitzroy: Brotherhood of St Laurence and Foresters Community Finance.
Chunn, D. and Gavigan, S. (2004) ‘Welfare law, welfare fraud, and the moral regulation of the “never deserving” poor’, Social and Legal Studies, 13, 2, 219–43.
Dale, M. C., Feng, F. and Vaithianathan, R. (2012) ‘Microfinance in developed economies: a case study of the NILS programme in Australia and New Zealand’, New Zealand Economic Papers, 46, 3, 303–13.
Department of Social Services (DSS) (2016) Families and Communities Program: Financial Wellbeing and Capability Guidelines, Canberra: Australian Government, Department of Social Services.
Gaille, D., Paugam, S. and Jacobs, S. (2003) ‘Unemployment, poverty and social isolation: is there a vicious circle of exclusion?’, European Societies, 5, 1, 132.
Gershon, I. (2011) ‘Neoliberal Agency’, Current Anthropology, 52, 4, 537–55.
Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, Hoare, Q., and Smith, G. (eds and trans), New York: International Publishers.
Heath, N. (2017) How do Hard Working Aussie Families Get Stuck in a Cycle of Debt?, SBS, 8 December.
Hickman, P. (2018) ‘A flawed construct? Understanding and unpicking the concept of resilience in the context of economic hardship’, Social Policy and Society, 17, 3, 409–24.
Howell, N. and Wilson, T. (2005) ‘Access to consumer credit: the problem of financial exclusion in Australia and the current regulatory framework’, Macquarie Law Journal, 5, 127–48.
Hunt, T. and Lockey, A. (2017) ‘English radicalism and the annihilation of the “progressive dilemma”’, The Political Quarterly, 88, 1, 116–25.
Jayasuriya, K. (2005) ‘Beyond institutional fetishism: from the developmental to the regulatory state’, New Political Economy, 10, 3, 381–7.
Jericho, G. (2014) ‘An age of entitlement? Not quite’, ABC News, 5 February,
Jessop, B. (2009) ‘Cultural political economy and critical policy studies’, Critical Policy Studies, 3, 3–4, 336–56.
Jones, S. (2006) Antonio Gramsci, London and New York: Routledge.
Lawrence, R. (2005) ‘Governing Warlpiri subjects: Indigenous employment and training programs in the central Australian mining industry’, Geographical Research, 43, 1, 40–8.
Louth, J. and Goodwin-Smith, I. (2018) ‘You Can’t Just Come in Like a Fly and Take-Off’: An Evaluation Report on Client and Staff Experiences of the Delivery of CatholicCare Northern Territory’s Financial Wellbeing and Capability Program, Adelaide: Australian Centre for Community Services Research, Flinders University.
Louth, J. and Potter, M. (2017) ‘The production of neoliberal subjectivities: constellations of domination and resistance’, in Louth, J. and Potter, M. (eds.), Edges of Identity: The Production of Neoliberal Subjectivities, Chester: Chester University Press, 125.
Lovell, M. (2014) ‘Languages of neoliberal critique: the production of coercive government in the Northern Territory intervention’, in Hur, J. and Walter, R. (eds.), Studies in Australian Political Rhetoric, Canberra: Australian National University Press, 219–40.
Mackenzie, C. and Goodwin-Smith, I. (2018) ‘It’s not Charity’: A Report on an Evaluation of the Uniting Country SA Micro Credit Loan Scheme and Client Outcomes, Adelaide: Australian Centre for Community Services Research, Flinders University.
Mader, P. (2012) Financialisation through Microfinance: Credit Relations and Market Building, Singapore: National University of Singapore.
Mader, P. (2015) The Political Economy of Microfinance: Financializing Poverty, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Marjolin, A., Muir, K., Ramia, I. and Powell, A. (2017) Why is Financial Stress Increasing? Financial Resilience in Australia 2016– Part 1, Sydney: Centre for Social Impact (CSI) at UNSW, for National Australia Bank.
Marmot, M., Allen, J., Bell, R., Bloomer, E. and Goldblatt, P. (2012) ‘WHO European review of social determinants of health and the health divide’, The Lancet, 380, 1011–29.
Marston, G. and Shevellar, L. (2014) ‘In the shadow of the welfare state: the role of payday lending in poverty survival in Australia’, Journal of Social Policy, 43, 1, 155–72.
McHugh, N., Biosca, O. and Donaldson, C. (2017) ‘From wealth to health: evaluating microfinance as a complex intervention’, Evaluation, 23, 2, 209–25.
Miller, M., Reichelstein, J., Salas, C. and Zia, B. (2014) Can You Help Someone Become Financially Capable? A Meta-Analysis of the Literature. Policy Research Working Paper 6745, The World Bank Development Research Group Finance and Private Sector Development Team and Financial and Private Sector Development Financial Inclusion and Infrastructure Practice.
Morduch, J. (1995) ‘Income smoothing and consumption smoothing’, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 9, 3, 103–14.
Morduch, J. (1998) Does Microfinance Really Help the Poor? New Evidence from Flagship Programs in Bangladesh, Stanford University Department of Economics and HIID, Harvard University and Hoover Institution Stanford University.
OECD (2015) National Strategies for Financial Education OECD/INFE Policy Handbook, [accessed 10.06.2018].
Popay, J. and MacDougall, C. (2007) ‘Lay knowledge’, in Keleher, H., MacDougall, C. and Murphy, B. (eds.), Understanding Health Promotion, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 6980.
Rogers, D. and Power, E. (2017) ‘Explainer: the financialisation of housing and what can be done about it’, The Conversation, 23 March, [accessed 10.06.2018].
Rolnik, R. (2013) ‘Late neoliberalism: the financialization of homeownership and housing rights’, International Journal if Urban and Regional Research, 37, 3, 1058–66.
Russell, R., Bowman, D., Banks, M. and de Silva, A. (2016) All Being Well? Financial Wellbeing, Inclusion and Risk, Melbourne: Brotherhood of St Lawrence and RMIT University.
Scott, B. (2018) ‘The cashless society is a con– and big finance is behind it’, The Guardian, 19 July, [accessed 25.07.2018].
Signal, L., Lanumata, T. and Bowers, S. (2012) ‘Punching loan sharks on the nose: effective interventions to reduce financial hardship in New Zealand’, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 23, 2, 108–11.
Smith, J., Ryan, L., Sonnega, A. and Weir, D. (2017) Psychosocial and Lifestyle Questionnaire 2006 - 2016, Documentation Report, Core Section LB, Michigan and Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, The HRS Psychosocial Working Group, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research.
Soederberg, S. (2014) Debtfare States and the Poverty Industry: Money, Discipline and the Surplus Population, London and New York: Routledge.
Soldatic, K. and Morgan, H. (2017) ‘“The way you make me feel”: Shame and the neoliberal governance of disability welfare subjectivities in Australia and the United Kingdom’, in Louth, J. and Potter, M. (eds.), Edges of Identity: The Production of Neoliberal Subjectivities, Chester: Chester University Press, 109–33.
United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) (2017) What we do, [accessed 02.05.2017].
Voola, A. (2013) ‘The sustainability of what? The challenge for microfinance in Australia’, Third Sector Review, 19, 1, 127–46.
Wacquant, L. (2009) Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity, Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Walby, S., Armstrong, J. and Strid, S. (2012) ‘Intersectionality: multiple inequalities in social theory’, Sociology, 46, 224–40.
Wehrens, R. (2014) ‘Beyond two communities– from research utilization and knowledge translation to co-production?’, Public Health, 128, 6, 545–51.
Wickramasinghe, V. and Fernando, D. (2017) ‘Use of microcredit for household income and consumption smoothing by low income communities’, International Journal of Consumer Studies, 41, 6, 647–58.
Willis, L. (2011) ‘The financial education fallacy’, American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings, 101, 3, 429–34.
World Bank (2013) Why Financial Capability is Important and How Surveys Can Help. Financial Capability Surveys Around the World, [accessed 10.06.2018].


The Neoliberal Production of Deserving and Undeserving Poor: A Critique of the Australian Experience of Microfinance

  • Catherine Mackenzie (a1) and Jonathon Louth (a2)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed