Meeting the needs of Australia’s most vulnerable — how do we measure up?

While most Australians enjoy a good standard of living, many are struggling to care for people with a disability, or with issues related to ageing, homelessness, children and families, according to the latest information on the nation's welfare-related services released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

A rapidly changing society, with changed patterns of marriage and family formation, an ageing population, greater workforce participation by women, differing economic aspirations, and shifts in immigration policy, has contributed to broader and more complex needs for services and assistance.

The AIHW biennial report, Australia's welfare 2009, shows how we measure up, particularly when it comes to children and young people, families, those with disability, carers, the homeless and older Australians.

According to the report, the main source of assistance for people with disability, people with other long-term conditions and the aged, are informal carers.

Most carers are women, and most are aged between 25 and 54 years. Many experience financial and social disadvantage.

'Carers often have a reduced capacity to participate in the paid workforce, and in society generally, as a result of their caring responsibilities', said AIHW Director Dr Penny Allbon.

'Many admit that they don't find the caring role satisfying, and they report poorer health and wellbeing than non-carers.'

The authoritative report also found that family homelessness was an issue of growing concern.

'Over a quarter of homeless people in Australia are families with children,' Dr Allbon said.

'Families with children have more difficulty than people without children in securing some of the services they require to resolve their homelessness.'

'In this vein, the current demand for social housing exceeds supply, although this seems set to improve with the significant investment in social housing by the Australian Government and a new national affordable housing agreement.'

An ageing population and the increasing numbers of Australians with disability bring future challenges for the provision of services and assistance.

The number of Australians with a disability doubled between 1981 and 2003 to around 4 million people. The number of people with high level of disability will be around 1.5 million by next year, and almost 2.3 million by 2030.

While increasing numbers of older people report very good or excellent health, the rates of poor health and disability increase markedly in older age groups, with dementia being the greatest single contributor.

Australia's welfare 2009 presents new information on social inclusion (the opportunity to participate fully in social and economic life). 'Understanding social exclusion involves recognising that it is often the culmination of a variety of interconnected lifetime processes and experiences that can be transmitted across generations', Dr Allbon said.

Key points

• The proportion of children in the population has fallen from a peak of 30% in 1961 to 19% in 2008, and is projected to fall even further to 17% in 2038.

• Despite decreases in the proportion of children and young people in the population, the actual number of children and young people in Australia is projected to increase, from 4.1 million to 5.2 million children and from 3.0 million to 3.7 million young people between 2008 and 2038.

• In 2006, 15% of Australian children lived in jobless families, with the proportion substantially higher for children in one-parent families (52%).

• Too many children are subject to violence and abuse-around 34,300 children were on care and protection orders in 2007-08, up 37% from 2005.

• In 2007, the majority of people aged 65 years and over were retired from the workforce (85%) and most relied on government pensions for support.

• The majority of older Australians in 2006 (92%) lived in private dwellings as members of family, group and lone-person households.

• Around 90% of older people living in private households had some form of weekly contact with friends and family members living elsewhere.

• Over 10,000 older people received assistance during 2007-08 from the Transition Care Program following a hospital stay.

• The number of people with the highest level of disability is projected to increase to around 1.5 million Australians by 2010, and almost 2.3 million by 2030 - this is roughly the equivalent to the entire population of Western Australia in 2009.

• Higher levels of disability tend to be more prevalent in areas of relative economic disadvantage.

• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more than twice as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to need help with core daily activities because of disability.

• Over 90% of primary carers are close family members of the person for whom they care -41% are a spouse or partner, 26% are a son or daughter and 23% are a parent.

• Although homelessness is widely regarded as a metropolitan issue and inner city areas do have high rates of homelessness, there are also high rates of homelessness in regional and remote areas.

• The supply of social housing, in particular, has not kept up with demand while the continuing decline in affordability in the private rental market may further increase the demand for social housing.

• The largest ever single investment in social housing by an Australian Government, and a new national housing agreement, will bring about significant changes over the coming years in the supply and delivery of housing assistance.



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