Social policy gives particular attention to identifying and meeting the needs of population groups most likely to have difficulties in meeting the costs of day to day living or in accessing particular resources (such as housing or health services). Some of the groups for which information is required include:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are widely recognised as being among the most impoverished groups within Australia. Their housing conditions are often comparatively poor, they have lower levels of educational attainment, and health conditions are also often poor. Those who live in remote areas often have limited access to social services expected as being basic to people living in urban areas. Many rely on government transfers as their major source of income. Some of the many factors underpinning this relative poverty include their limited ownership of economic resources.
PEOPLE WITH LOW INCOMES
People with low incomes (i.e. persons considered to be in relative poverty) are those likely to be in greatest need of financial support. Assessing their economic wellbeing in terms of the resources they have available to them (their actual levels of income, their wealth and level of consumption) helps to determine the adequacy of any financial or non-financial support that may be provided. It is also through the analysis of the various characteristics of people identified as being poor, such as, where they live, their life cycle stage, their family type, their ethnicity, their daily activities and their health status, that common reasons for low income can be identified and that suitable policies might be developed to target assistance to groups of special concern.
SOCIAL SECURITY RECIPIENTS
To support government activities in administering the provision of pensions and benefits to people with limited means, information is needed about the potential numbers of recipients for each type of payment (age pensions, disability pensions, sole parent pensions, unemployment benefits and so forth) and whether over time those numbers are expected to rise or fall. Information is also needed to assess whether payments are adequate to meet needs. Knowing about the circumstances of income support recipients (their personal characteristics and activities) compared to other people in the community is also useful as it can suggest ways of helping them out of a dependent situation.
LIFE CYCLE GROUPS
Levels of income, wealth and consumption are highly associated with people's life cycle stages. It is by understanding life cycle patterns, including the associations between age, participation in work, work experience and earnings and their associations with stages of family formation and dissolution, that social norms can be seen. Organising information about the economic resources of people relative to others in the same life cycle group and those in different life cycle groups once again helps to determine appropriate levels of assistance to people who may be in need of support.
FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN
The economic wellbeing of families with children is a matter of particular public concern because children are largely dependent on the economic resources of their parents for their prosperity. In Australia, parents who are relatively poor are given additional income support to help meet the costs of bringing up their children. Knowing about the resource needs of parents and children helps ensure that provisions made are suitable.
Depending on circumstances, family breakdown, through separation and divorce, can create particular economic hardship for both the former partners and their children, especially for the parents who live with their children, commonly mothers, who are not able to work because of their parenting role. Ensuring agreeable outcomes in terms of the way former partners, the government and welfare agencies, share the costs of bringing up children in such circumstances has been an issue of on-going social policy concern.
The period of transition from being dependent on one's parents to full independence can be precarious for young people. Understanding the different pathways youth follow as they mature can help determine those who might be in greatest need of support. Details of interest in this regard include: their living arrangements (whether living with parents or not); their economic activities (whether studying, working, or looking for work); and details of economic resources provided by parents. This information can also help in designing schemes to support youth in gaining their independence from parental or government support and in evaluating the effectiveness of those schemes.
Recent decades have seen the development of social policies seeking to encourage people to provide for themselves in their retirement. Important among these has been support for the provision of retirement income through investment in superannuation schemes by employees in which employers have also been obligated to make payments. Obtaining information that helps assess the outcome of those policies, such as changes in the numbers of people able to live independent of government income support, is of particular interest.