The impact of mutual obligation for sole parents

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Holdsworth, L 2017, 'The impact of mutual obligation for sole parents', Journal of Sociology, vol. 53, no. 3, pp 607-621.

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Mutual obligation is located within a neoliberal socio-political framework of policies designed to structure an ordered and ‘disciplined society’ emphasising strong work-ethics and self-reliance. This article presents findings of three qualitative studies into welfare-recipient experiences under interventions allied to mutual obligation. The studies were of 14 (2000), 32 (2007) and 15 (2014–15) sole mothers in receipt of Centrelink payments. Participants voiced concerns over interventions targeting individuals predominantly already contributing in essential roles, fear of misdirected coercive punishments, increased stigmatisation, a lower real standard of living and unimproved prospects for suitable employment. The article explores past and present rhetoric and implementations of mutual obligation policies, and their impacts for people receiving welfare benefits. Ongoing critical analysis of such interventionist policies is essential to ensuring that the ostensible goals of addressing poverty and disadvantage are achievable and without excessive unforeseen consequences to society. Are they in the interests of social justice and stability?

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