Social Security in a Digital Age

Governments around the world are increasingly looking to new and sophisticated technologies to automate and streamline the delivery of social services. These ‘digital welfare’ innovations are ordinarily touted as a means to improve efficiency and quality of service delivery. But, as the now infamous robo-debt case demonstrates, these initiatives can also be a source of injustice and can deepen inequality.

This empirically-grounded, interdisciplinary research project addresses the Building Resilient Communities challenge. It brings together legal scholars, social researchers and systems analysts to examine the social implications of the digital welfare state for vulnerable communities in Australia. Stage One of this project focuses on how disadvantaged welfare claimants in the Illawarra interact with new digital welfare technologies at the claim stage, that is, the point at which recipients apply for a new payment. Claim verification processes are increasingly mediated by new digital technologies and interfaces. As such, access to social security increasingly rests on claimant’s ability to successfully negotiate this ‘digital encounter’.

This first phase of the project will focus on Newstart recipients who live in Warrawong, Port Kembla or Berkeley. These locations represent the most disadvantaged communities in the Illawarra region and are among the most disadvantaged suburbs in Australia.

The team

The project team is genuinely interdisciplinary, spanning the disciplines of law, sociology, social policy and computer science.

Dr Andrew Whelan is Senior Lecturer in School of Sociology, ASSH. His research examines the effects of networked media for cultural communities of practice and for contemporary bureaucratic administration.

Dr Scarlet Wilcock’s socio-legal research focuses on social security law, policy and practice. Her particular interest is in the impacts of restrictive, complex and punitive welfare administrative practices for vulnerable people, notably single mothers.

Dr Roba Abbas is a Lecturer in the School of Faculty of School of Management and Marketing in the Faculty of Business and Law. Roba’s research focuses on the impact of emerging technologies on individuals, organisations and society from a socio-technical perspective.

Associate Professor Paul Henman is an internationally renowned multidisciplinary e-government researcher based at the School of Social Sciences, University of Queensland. Paul’s research focuses on the nexus between digital technologies, public administration and social policy.


This project is working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals