Social changes drive welfare service changes

Social and demographic change are key drivers of changing demands for welfare services according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's flagship report Australia's Welfare 2005, released today.

As in years past, the report focuses on ageing and aged care; disability and disability services, housing, homelessness, community services labour force and expenditure. This year the special thematic chapter, reflecting increasing policy and public interest, is on children and youth.

AIHW Welfare Division Head Dr Diane Gibson said that in recent years, much public attention has focused on the ageing of the Australian population and its consequences for social policy.

'People aged 65 and over have indeed increased as a proportion of the population from 10% in 1984 to 13% in 2004. But other social and demographic changes are of at least equal importance. There is increasing diversity of family and household types as well as changes in patterns of labour force participation,' Dr Gibson said.

The proportion of couple families where both parents were employed increased from 51% in 1993 to 59% in 2003. The proportion of families where neither parent is employed has declined from 11% to 6% in the same period.

Children and youth remain an important component of the Australian population pyramid. The number of children in Australia increased rapidly until the mid-1970s, remained steady until the 1990s and has increased gradually since that time. It is important to recognise that one third of the Australian population is aged under 25.

Alongside these social and demographic changes, welfare services have expanded and evolved.

Between 1991 and 2004 the number of Australian Government supported child care places has more than doubled to over 530,000.

Residential aged care places increased from 82.2 per 1,000 people aged 70+ in 2001 to 84.2 in 2004. Taking community aged care packages together with residential care places, the total ratio of provision changed from 96.2 to 100.3 over the same period.

Disability support services were provided to 187,800 people during 2003-04, with more than half of the expenditure under this program used to fund accommodation support services.

Government funding for welfare services grew, in real terms, at an average rate of 5.7% per year between 1998-99 and 2002-03, and the most rapid growth by far was in welfare services for families and children.

Finding affordable, secure and appropriate housing continues to be a problem for lower income Australian households, as demand for affordable housing has risen at the same time as the level of public housing stock has dropped.

For people without secure housing, government funded homeless services support over 150,000 people each year. However, demand for accommodation still exceeds supply, with over half the adults and children requesting accommodation turned away on an average night,' Dr Gibson said.



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