Should the new YA ‘independence’ test be delayed?

It’s not often that a classical liberal unites with a Labor government in support of a more egalitarian income distribution. But that is what I am doing in the current controversy over changes to the ‘independence’ criteria for Youth Allowance.

What ‘independence’ means in this context is that Youth Allowance applicants are assessed only against their personal income, rather than against personal and parental income. In the budget, the government announced that it was abolishing the two softest work tests of ‘independence’. These were working 15 hours a week for 2 years (so that undergaduates working median part-time student hours would qualify automatically for their last period of study) and earning just under $20,000 over an 18 month period since leaving school (which effectively permitted anyone taking a gap year to qualify, though the YA cash would not start to flow immediately in their first uni year).

Like the government, I believe that this was turning YA not just into middle class welfare, but upper middle class welfare. Bruce Chapman’s study, though on a limited sample, found that there were more YA recipients in $100K+ households than <$50K households. My own work on the 2006 census found evidence of behaviour consistent with teenagers from higher-income households making themselves eligible. While there was only a 5% increase in uni enrolments between ages 18 and 19 for households likely to be fully eligible for YA support, and 13% for partly eligible households, in $100K+ households the increase was 29%.
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