Social Benefits Schemes

Though artists are usually extremely enterprising and entrepreneurial, because of the precarious nature of their profession, sometimes they have the need to seek social security support.

Photograph of a rainbow over a field

Artists should be understood as skilled professionals and assisted by the social security system to find appropriate career development and income earning opportunities.

Over many years NAVA has been lobbying for a number of changes to the way artists are treated under the social security system. Its 'ArtStart' social security proposals to Government included:

  • seeking Centrelink’s recognition that being an artist is a profession
  • the support of appropriately trained caseworkers is to assist artists to find relevant work opportunities
  • provision of specialist New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) training
  • access to appropriate Work for the Dole work experience.

NAVA continues to advocate for these initiatives to be implemented.


Prior to the election in 2007, NAVA developed a set of proposals under which artists on welfare would receive the assistance of the social security regime to help them progress their professional careers. In response, in its election arts policy Labor promised a number of initiatives. Subsequently it implemented its own ‘ArtStart’ scheme which provides start-up assistance for graduates through an Australia Council managed grant program.

Labor also promised to develop a ‘Social Security and the Arts’ policy that harmonised Australia Council, Centrelink and Australian Tax Office rules and determined the most equitable way to treat earnings and royalty payments for artists receiving welfare.

Labor also said it would consider adding ‘participation in arts projects’ to the criteria for employment and community participation in work for the dole programs where it is likely that such participation will improve a person’s prospects of gaining employment or private income.

Though none of this eventuated, the Australia Council’s ‘ArtStart’ grant scheme was established and was much valued by emerging artists. It went some way towards what was proposed by offering support of up to $10,000 for services, resources, skills development and equipment to help emerging artists to develop a sustainable arts career, though it did not assist more mature artists who may have experienced a downturn in their market prospects. However, sadly this scheme was one of the victims of the Federal Government's funding cuts in 2015 and is no longer offered.