Expenditure and workforce

Australia's welfare system is a complex mix of services, payments and government and non-government providers. This section looks at two of the main components of service delivery: the government spending that funds the services, and the workforce—both paid and voluntary—that helps to deliver them.

Welfare spending up an average of 2.6% a year

In 2012–13, the Australian and state and territory governments spent $136.5 billion on welfare.

Welfare spending grew at an average rate of 2.6% per year from 2003–04 to 2012–13 (adjusted for inflation). The growth in welfare spending was slightly lower than overall economic growth of 2.9% per year over the same period.

The biggest portion of government spending in 2012–13—$93.1 billion (68%)—was in cash payments such as the Age Pension, Disability Support Pension and Carer Allowance (not including unemployment benefits).

This was followed by $35.9 billion (26%) for welfare services and $7.5 billion (5.5%) for unemployment benefits.

Spending on cash payments (excluding unemployment benefits) was up from $92.8 billion in 2011–12 and $77.0 billion in 2003–04 (adjusted for inflation).

In 2012–13, the largest share of cash payments—$40.1 billion— was for older people. Families and children received $28.2 billion and people with disability received $22.8 billion.

Between 2003–04 and 2012–13, cash payments grew by 6.4% per year for people with disability and by 2.8% for older people, while it fell by 0.7% per year for families and children.

Government welfare expenditure, by type of expenditure, adjusted for inflation, 2003–04 to 2012–13

Bar chart showing amounts of government welfare expenditure, by type of expenditure, adjusted for inflation, from 2003–04 to 2012–13. In every year from 2003-04 to 2012-13 except for 2008-09, spending on cash payments for specific populations was between 70 and 90 billion dollars. In 2008-09 spending on cash payments was around 100 billion dollars. In all years, spending on welfare services was between 20 and 40 billion dollars, and spending on unemployment benefits was around 10 billion dollars.  

A diverse welfare workforce

The welfare workforce is made up of people employed in both public and private organisations delivering welfare services, including early childhood education and care, residential care services, and a wide range of other social assistance services.

The workforce includes people in roles involved in direct service provision, and others, such as clerical and management workers. In 2014, there were about 449,000 paid workers in direct service provision roles in organisations providing welfare services. More than one-third of these people (34%) were early childhood education and care workers, mostly working in child care services and preschools.

The next largest group was aged and disabled care workers (26%), mainly working in residential care services and other social assistance services; followed by nursing support and personal care workers (12%), and registered nurses (9%), who were all mostly employed in residential care services.

People employed in direct service provision in welfare services, 2014

Stacked bar chart showing numbers of people employed in direct service provision in welfare services in 2014. The occupations shown are: special care workers (fewer than 5000), psychologists (fewer than 5000), counsellors (around 10000), enrolled and mothercraft nurses (around 10000), welfare, recreation, and community arts workers (around 10000), social workers (around 15000), welfare support workers (around 30000), registered nurses (around 40000), nursing support and personal care workers (around 55000), aged and disabled carers (around 115000), and early childhood education and care workers (around 155000). Almost all early childhood education and care workers are employed in child care services and preschool education, while other occupations are mostly employed in a mix of either residential care services or other social assistance services.  

Majority of welfare workforce is female

Most welfare workers are female. For example, 94% of workers in child care centres, 90% in aged care services, 84-89% in child protection services and 77% in homelessness services, are female.

The pay earned by some workers in welfare-related fields is less, on average, than in other occupations.

For example, in 2014, the average weekly cash earnings of child carers ($537) and aged and disabled carers ($679) were substantially lower than cash earnings of workers across all occupations ($1,182).

While this gap is partly related to higher numbers of part-time workers, full-time workers in these occupations also tend to earn far less than their counterparts in other occupations.

Most informal carers are of working age

In 2012, about 2.7 million Australians were informal carers, providing help, support or supervision to family members, friends or neighbours with a range of physical and mental health conditions, and disability.

Informal care can include personal care (such as showering and support with eating), in-home supervision, transport, and help with shopping and medical needs. Most informal carers were aged 25–64 (67%), while 22% were aged 65 and over, and 11% were under the age of 25. More women (1.5 million) were carers than men (1.2 million), and most carers (71%) lived with the person receiving care.

The person responsible for the majority of informal caring is called the primary carer. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of primary carers aged 25–64 found it hard to meet everyday living costs because of their caring role.

Many people volunteer their time

Australians have a tradition of volunteering in many aspects of community life such as education, sport, safety and emergency services, and welfare services.

In 2010, about 6.1 million people did some voluntary work for an organisation in the previous 12 months. Volunteering rates were highest among people aged 45–54 (44%), followed by those aged 55–64 (43%) and 35–44 (42%).

Women (38%) were more likely to volunteer than men (34%).

Most volunteers gave their time to sporting and recreation groups (44% of men volunteering, 32% of women), religious groups (21% of men, 24% of women) and welfare and community services (18% of men, 25% of women).

Volunteers aged 18 and over, by selected organisation type and sex, 2010

Bar chart showing proportions of volunteers aged 18 and over, by selected organisation type and sex, in 2010. The organisation types shown are: welfare/community (around 18%25 of males and 25%25 of females), education and training (around 15%25 of males and 20%25 of females), emergency services (around 10%25 of males and 5%25 of females), parenting, children and youth (around 12%25 of males and 20%25 of females), religious (around 20%25 of males and 23%25 of females), and sport and physical recreation (around 44%25 of males and 31%25 of females).  

Key trends in Australia's welfare

Ageing of the population

Line chart showing the expected growth in the number of Australians aged 65-84 and 85 and over from 2014 to 2054. In 2014, 15%25 of the population (3.5 million people) were aged 65 and over. In 2054, it is expected that 21%25 (8.4 million people) will be aged 65 and over. The number of people aged 65-84 is expected to rise from 3 million in 2014 to around 7 million in 2054. The number of people aged 85 and over is expected to rise from around 500000 in 2014 to around 2 million in 2054.

People with disability

In 2012, about 1 in 5 Australians had a disability.

The proportion of the population with disability has remained stable at 19% since 2009.

The prevalence of disability increases with age

Bar chart indicating that 4%25 of children aged under 5 were disabled, compared to 86%25 of people aged 90 and over.  

Changing workforce

Between 1992 and 2014, the labour force participation rate has changed.

Graphic indicating changes in labour force participation rates between 1992 and 2014. The participation rate of men aged 15-64 has decreased from 84%25 to 82%25. The participation rate of men aged 65 to 69 has increased from 15%25 to 33%25. The participation rate of women aged 15-64 has increased from 62%25 to 71%25, and the participation rate of women aged 65 to 69 has increased from 5%25 to 20%25.

Men retire, on average, at 58 and women at 50. While this has changed little for men since 2004–05, it has increased from 47 years for women.

Home ownership

The proportion of households renting

Bar chart showing the proportion of households renting has increased from 18%25 to 25%25 from 1994-95 to 2011-12.  

The proportion of households with a mortgage

Bar chart showing the proportion of households with a mortgage has increased from 30%25 to 37%25 from 1994-95 to 2011-12.  

The proportion of households without a mortgage

Bar chart showing the proportion of households without a mortgage has decreased from 42%25 to 31%25 from 1994-95 to 2011-12.  

Indigenous Australians

In 2012–13, government payments were the main source of income for

Bar chart indicating that in 2012–13, government payments were the main source of income for 50%25 of Indigenous Australians aged 18-64, and 16%25 of non-Indigenous Australians aged 18-64.  

For Indigenous Australians, this proportion is down from 63% in 2002.

Indigenous Australians aged 18–64 whose main source of income was from employment

Bar chart indicating that the proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 18–64 whose main source of income was from employment increased from 32%25 in 2002 to 41%25 in 2012-13.