Those with mental disability and the unemployed are perceived more negatively than other groups who are entitled to welfare payments in Australia, according to a new study. 

The study looked at five key social groups that may be entitled to government support: the unemployed, people with a mental disability, people with a physical disability, single parents and the elderly. 

Co-lead author Dr Aino Suomi from The Australian National University (ANU) said these groups face different levels of stigma and negative stereotyping. 

“This stigma is worrying because it might mean people are less inclined to seek out support when they need it most,” Dr Suomi said. 

“We were particularly interested in what drives these negative stereotypes. We found it has less to do with the payment itself and more to do with the characteristics of the recipients.  

“People with a physical and mental disability and the elderly were viewed similarly, whether they received support payments or not. The greatest stigma from receipt of welfare payments was for those of working age and without disability. 

“Single parents were generally perceived very positively. However, when reference was made to their receipt of government income support, they were viewed much more negatively.”   

Dr Suomi believes if the public had more information about our welfare system and those it helps, it could help bust the “dole bludger” myth.  

“Most people who get that support really need it. There are so many hoops they have to jump through to even get to the stage of receiving support.” 

Dr Aino Suomi. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

In a separate study, the authors compared welfare stereotypes in Nordic countries versus those with more conservative social welfare systems like Poland and Germany, and more Liberal nations like the United States and New Zealand. 

Their findings support the theory that welfare recipients are seen as “less friendly and less deserving” in liberal welfare systems like Australia. However, the study found no difference in perceptions around competence of welfare recipients between welfare systems.  

“In Nordic countries support is considered a right of citizenship and payments are larger and more widely available,” Dr Suomi said. 

“The Nordic system also seems better at preventing disadvantage by providing support to more people at an earlier stage. Policy can make a difference.”  

The papers have been published in the International Journal of Social Welfare and the Journal of Applied Psychology. 

You may also like

Article Card Image

Fashion, sex and drag: Vivienne Westwood’s queer legacy

From an infamous cowboy t-shirt to RuPaul’s Drag Race, Vivienne Westwood’s impact on the queer community cannot be understated.

Article Card Image

From killer robot to sweatshop boss: Santa on screen

Science fiction portrayals of Santa Claus range from sinister to downright bizarre.

Article Card Image

Top diplomat and Indigenous songwriter honoured with ANU degrees 

One of Australia’s most decorated diplomats and a member of the ARIA Hall of Fame are among those who have been celebrated with honorary degrees from ANU this week, as part of the University’s end-of-year graduation ceremonies.

Subscribe to ANU Reporter

Anu Logo

+61 2 6125 5111

The Australian National University, Canberra

CRICOS Provider: 00120C

ABN: 52 234 063 906

EDX Logo
APRU Logo
IARU Logo
Group of eight Australia Logo