Welfare Reform to Support Women’s Self-Employment

A New Solution for Women’s Economic Participation and Sustainable Work

Demonstration Project with Solo Mums on Parenting Payments

In collaboration with Government, Philanthropy and Corporate Australia, Global Sisters is running three demonstration projects to address the structural, systemic barriers to self-employment for women receiving income support.

These projects are designed to:

Prove that, with certain foundations and support, women can permanently exit welfare via self-employment.

Gather new data and create an evidence base of what conditions, timeframes, policies, systems and legislation are required to enable women’s self-employment and financial independence.

Ultimately, these demonstration projects are designed to reform welfare policies and systems to support self employment as an alternative to low-paid, unstable work or unemployment. They are about creating the permanent systems changes needed for a scalable, national solution for increasing women’s economic participation, sustainable work and financial independence.

Global Sisters supports all women who are unemployed or underemployed, however for the demonstration projects, we are focusing on groups of women most excluded from economic participation and the ability to be financially independent due to intersecting gender-based structural and systemic barriers.

These projects will involve:


women dependent on income support and facing barriers to economic participation and financial independence. The three cohorts in the demonstration projects are single mothers, women escaping DFV, and women with disabilities.


Single mothers

Receiving Parenting Payment Single


Women escaping Domestic & Family Violence

Receiving JobSeeker payment


Women with disabilities

Receiving disability pensions, NDIS, income payments, or have hidden/unrecognised disability.

The impact of the demonstration projects will be:

A measurable increase in women’s economic participation and security

A verifiable evidence base used to make changes to the welfare system to support more women into self-employment

A roadmap to real change in macro gender issues of poverty, homelessness, domestic & family violence (DFV) and mental & physical health

Co-investment & Collective Impact Approach

The collective impact approach is bringing the following corporate, philanthropic and government partners together to solve this problem, now and into the future.

The Problem

Gender inequality in economic participation has long-term, intergenerational adverse impacts on economic security for women, their dependents, and society. High employment statistics mask the low-paid employment and underemployment, particularly casualised and precarious jobs, that are too often the only option for women who cannot access full-time stable employment due to gendered individual and systemic barriers.

Deloitte Access Economics & Australians Investing in Women report Breaking the Norms: Unleashing Australia’s Economic Potential found that more flexible ideas around gender could lead to an additional:


each year for Australia’s economy


additional full-time employees

This would be achieved through a combination of:

More women participating in the labour force

Women working more paid hours (and men taking on a more equal split of unpaid labour and care)

More people working in roles that align with their skills, talent and qualifications

“The way that Australia has aimed to tackle gender inequality has historically looked at different outcomes of gender norms, like the costs of childcare, the structure of paid parental leave, or discriminatory hiring practices. What this report shows is that without looking at the common source of these gender gaps, each action only plugs a leak which springs up elsewhere. We need to turn the tap off.”

Sruthi Srikanthan – Deloitte Access Economic Partner

To increase women’s economic participation, income levels, financial independence and long-term economic security, we cannot continue to focus change efforts and investment into traditional solutions that were set up by and for men. That means we have to look outside mainstream employment and jobs.

The flow-on negative impact of gender inequality in economic participation and security is leading to what Global Sisters has identified as the top four gender issues facing Australia:

Female sole parent and child poverty

Poverty is a gender issue.

1 in 8 people live in poverty

This includes 1 in 6 children

Some groups of people are more at risk of poverty than others. Factors such as age, gender, family relationships, paid work, sources of income, disability and other characteristics can all have an impact.


of households in which the main income earner is unemployed are in poverty


of sole parent households are in poverty


of households reliant on JobSeeker payment are in poverty


of people with disability are in poverty


of tenants in public housing are in poverty


of households where the main-income earner is a woman are in poverty, compared with 10% of households where the main income earner is a man

Old-aged female homelessness & housing insecurity

The rising rate of older women at risk of and experiencing homelessness is a major gender inequality issue in Australia. A Home of One’s Own (AIIW & Per Capita 2022) sets out the gendered causes of this emerging crisis.
Housing unaffordability, a lifetime of gender inequality in economic participation and income and domestic violence are pushing women into unstable housing and homelessness.

Women’s physical and mental health & its social determinants

The latest National Health Survey showed that (22%) Australian females were estimated to have a current mental or behavioural condition that had lasted, or was expected to last, 6 months or more.

Lack of safety/ Domestic & Family Violence (DFV)

1 in 6 women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner. Violence is the leading cause of homelessness (Source: Mission Australia).

Self-employment is one of the most effective pathways to economic participation and financial independence, however the current welfare system works against women achieving this goal. Instead, it leaves them trapped on income support when unable to access adequate, decent work due to intersecting barriers formed by their circumstances.

The recommendations below will help women move off welfare, mostly at no additional cost to the government, and in fact, should save funding on welfare expenditure.

The most significant barriers for women receiving Government benefits and wanting to be self-employed are:

Counter-productive, burdensome reporting obligations and program requirements that relate to finding a job, not starting a business

Pension or allowance income that varies significantly based on reported businesses income

Poor advice from agencies and welfare providers pushing them into unsustainable jobs

The Solution:
Single Mothers on Parenting Payment Single (PPS) demonstration project

300 single mothers receiving Parenting Payment Single access the Global Sisters lifecycle of support + an additional package of support over a 3-year period, enabling them to generate their own income and sustain that income at a level that they can move off Government benefits permanently.

300 women in single mothers on PPS cohort

The Target Cohort: Single mothers on Parenting Payment Single (PPS)

The participants of the single mothers PPS demonstration project are women who are:

Receiving government income support, specifically Parenting Payment Single

Experiencing barriers to secure, flexible, suitable employment

Unable to generate sufficient income due to childcare responsibilities via casualised, inflexible, and unsustainable jobs. 

The participants are women who cannot access sufficiently flexible, secure, adequate hours and sustained employment able to generate income to a level that keeps them and their household out of poverty. By nature of their primary carer responsibilities, the more traditional, rigidly structured, full-time employment opportunities are largely out of reach, leaving them to navigate options that typically are more causal, unstable, and short-term in nature, with fewer employee benefits and generally lower paid. As a result, these women frequently circle back onto social security payments and into welfare reliance or back into unhealthy relationships of financial dependence and control.

Mutual obligations (Job seeking), reporting requirements, and reporting fluctuating income puts their vase of financial security from which to launch and grow a business at risk. it disincentivises and prohibits micro business as a real solution to financial independence from welfare.

Early-stage businesses typically experience cash flow volatility, income unpredictability, and profitability challenges. For women in our cohort who experience intersection barriers and vulnerabilities, this means the “incubate” phase is often 18 months to 2 years.

In this period, they start generating their own income however, it is typically only from year 2 onwards that they are confident in their business model (built through a period of marketing testing and iteration). When our Sisters move to the “accelerate” stage they are growing and sustaining their income with much more predictability.


Single mother when joining Global Sisters

Youngest child <14 years

Receiving government income support – Parenting Payment Single $176.90 per fortnight

Experiencing barriers to secure, flexible suitable employment

Unable to earn sufficient income to be financially independent

Motivated to earn their own income

Based in NSW (for the impact assessment) and Australian-wide for the grant-funded component

Top barriers Global Sisters has identified via primary research:

Lack of confidence

Lack of connection & support

Lack of business skills and acumen

Financial barriers

Our desk research and Sister-informed design work indicate the following specific barriers and needs:

High levels of financial insecurity & stress

Single mothers on PPS need a stable base from which to build their own income.

On-going impact of trauma & violence

Many single mothers are sole parents due to violence (see The Choice: Violence or Poverty, Anne Summers 2022) and the impact of violence & trauma is long-lasting.


Conservative, cautious approach to generating own income due to responsibility for providing for dependents

The Model

Women in the single mothers on PPS target cohort will be invited to participate in the Global Sisters program over 3 years.

Global Sisters will provide intensive support via our life-cycle of tailored business programs, tools and support, enabling participants to start earning their own income and create a regular, sustainable income via micro business or blended income.

In addition to these programs and support, Global Sisters will provide an additional support package and provide the foundations or enabling environment that addresses the specific barriers this group of women face.

  • Additional vocational ideation support
  • Business tools- laptops, payment devices & phone data
  • Marketing photography
  • Branding
  • Online sales platform and marketing support
  • Accounting software and tax returns
  • Case management and wrap-around holistic support/ referrals
  • Participation in Global Sisters counted as a mutual obligation activity

The Partners

The AMP Foundation has invested $1M to launch the program that will have a direct impact on women who are too often excluded from economic participation due to structural, systemic barriers. Along with an innovative social impact investment from the NSW Government, Global Sisters will develop an evidence base for permanent systems change to support more women into self-employment across Australia. The Paul Ramsay Foundation is also supporting the demonstration project as part of their focus on economic dignity and breaking cycles of disadvantage, supporting Global Sisters to demonstrate that self-employment is a viable and desirable alternative for single mothers.

The Goals: Intended impact

The demonstration project aims to create a direct and systems change impact.

A measurable increase in women’s economic participation & security

Direct impact
An increase in economic participation for 300 women and 150 women will generate their own income via business and earn at a level that will enable them to move off welfare.

Systems Change Impact
To demonstrate that the Global Sisters model can enable economic participation and sustainable work for this specific cohort of women who are experiencing entrenched structural and systemic barriers to financial independence.

A verifiable evidence base used to make changes to the welfare system to support more women into self-employment

Direct impact
Women’s financial independence and Government welfare savings

Systems Change Impact
To prove that single mothers can create their own incomes via self-employment in micro business, and exit welfare permanently when provided with the right support and foundations over time.

A roadmap to real change in macro gender issues of poverty, homelessness, domestic & family violence (DFV), and mental & physical health

Direct impact
Reduction in poverty, prevent homelessness & return to DFV, and health improvements

Systems Change Impact
To create macro impacts on household poverty, welfare savings, and societal economic wellbeing benefits.

Want to know more or discuss opportunities for involvement or partnership? Get in touch

Heather McLean-Thomson
Chief Operating Officer, Global Sisters

Mandy Richards
CEO| Founder Global Sisters