Hartman, YA & Darab, S 2008, 'The hidden costs of injured dignity: an exploration of one effect of Workfare policies', in R Garbutt (ed.), Proceedings of Activating Human Rights and Peace Conference, Byron Bay, NSW, 1-4 July, Centre for Peace and Social Justice, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW. ISBN: 9780980498059
This paper explores one effect of Workfare policies that were designed and operationalised under the Howard Government. We conducted a qualitative, empirical study in two regions of New South Wales in the second part of 2007 which investigated how WorkChoices and the Welfare to Work reforms affected residents. Our analysis revealed a common theme was that of injured dignity. Here we examine how this sense of injured dignity is produced and how it manifests amongst our participants. The findings validate Dean’s (2004) view that Workfare policies focus upon a perceived failure of welfare recipients to be independent, whilst ignoring that humans are mutually interdependent beings. These policies recreate and reinforce the old division between the deserving and the undeserving. Injured dignity is then experienced as internalised shame and, as a psychic wound, it is largely hidden. We argue that the disrespect experienced by our participants in the Workfare process is a transgression of their inherent dignity from which human rights flow. Because these injuries are invisible, both their immediate costs and the long term consequences are incalculable. We conclude by recommending that existing policy be changed in ways that will acknowledge dependency without dishonour.