Christian mission or an unholy alliance?: The changing role of church-related organisations in welfare-to-work service delivery
AffiliationSchool of Social and Political Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2016 Dr. Wilma Gallet
This thesis investigates the challenges confronting religious organisations contracted to deliver employment services as part of Australia’s privatised employment services system. Service privatisation, which commenced in Australia in 1998, was expected to generate value for money, efficiency, and innovation and in turn improve outcomes for the unemployed. What began as a radical experiment has become institutionalised and work practices in employment services agencies are standardised across the range of contracted organisations. Critics argue that service delivery agencies are becoming increasingly homogenised, meaning that distinctive differences between for-profit, not-for-profit and church-related organisations are increasingly difficult to identify. This homogenisation is consistent with the phenomenon of isomorphism resulting from coercive, mimetic and normative influences. These influences have particular consequences for church-related organisations. Neo-secularisation theorists posit that isomorphic pressures have the potential to erode links between church-related organisations and the parent denomination and exacerbate the decline of religious authority, described as internal secularisation (Chaves, 1993a). The study of religious organisations is often seen as peripheral in social science, yet in this thesis I present original findings from a case study comprising four church-related organisations contracted to deliver federally funded employment services. This includes an examination of the extent to which the contracting environment impacts the behaviour, mission and identity of these church-related organisations. Central to this is the way in which the relationship between the purchaser and the contracted organisations has evolved since these services were first privatised. Principal-agent theory provides key insights into the behaviour of the purchaser and the impact that the principal-agent model of contracting has on the behaviour of the key actors. I find that with almost no exceptions, on almost every measure of religiosity, from ‘going the extra mile’ to the use of religious symbols, church-related welfare organisations are indistinguishable from their secular counterparts. I conclude that this is due to the types of pressures inherent in quasi-markets and in particular the purchaser’s use of the principal-agent model of contracting. I conclude that the church-related organisations in this study have been captured by the new public management agenda and this has compromised their ability to deliver their unique mission and resulted in identity drift. While one church-related organisation has been able to counter the effect of mission drift to some extent by focusing on delivering specific services for their unique client group, being disadvantaged young people; there is nonetheless pressure on all organisations operating in this field to conform to the rules, norms and agenda set by the purchaser. Church-related organisations in this environment are compelled to achieve the agenda of government rather than the agenda of the church. Therein lies the potential conflict. Finally, I surmise that this phenomenon may suit governments as the purchaser of social welfare in the short term; but it may have the long-term effect of diminishing the very values that make church-related agencies church-like. This may eventually accelerate secularisation and also undermine the amount of charitable good being exercised in society.
Keywordsgovernment contracting; welfare-to-work; church-related organisations; privatisation; employment services; public policy
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