The latest two-yearly snapshot of national wellbeing uses high-quality data to show how Australians are faring in key areas, including housing, education and skills, employment, social support and justice and safety.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report Australia’s welfare 2019 was launched today in Canberra by Senator the Hon. Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services.
The report shows that record employment and an increase in education levels are contributing to Australia’s wellbeing but challenges facing the nation include housing stress among low-income earners.
‘Australia’s welfare 2019 demonstrates the value in continuing to build an evidence base that supports the community, policy makers and services providers to better understand the varying and diverse needs of Australians,’ said AIHW spokesperson Mr. Dinesh Indraharan.
‘Australia is in the top third of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries for a range of measures, including life satisfaction and social connectedness.
‘In 2018, 74% of people aged 15–64 were employed—the highest annual employment rate recorded in Australia. In July 2019 the female and total employment rates remain at record levels.’
The proportion of Australians working very long hours (50 or more per week) declined from 16% to 14% and more Australians are using part-time work to balance work with other activities including caring responsibilities.
However, in December 2018, about 9% of workers were underemployed, or unable to find as many hours of work as they would like. One in 9 families with children had no one in the family who was employed.
Generally, the higher a person’s level of education, the more opportunities they have in their working life.
‘Between 2008 and 2018 the proportion of students staying in school until Year 12 rose from 69% to 81% for males and from 80% to 89% for females,’ Mr Indraharan said.
‘In 2018, 65% of Australians aged 25–64 had a non-school qualification at Certificate III level or above. This is up from 55% in 2009.’
Australia has high levels of civic engagement with 97% of eligible people enrolled to vote in 2019—up from 90% in 2010 and strong rates of volunteering (contributing 743 million hours a year). But an estimated 1 in 4 Australians are currently experiencing an episode of loneliness – with people who live alone, young adults, males and people with children more likely to feel lonely.
Finding affordable housing remains a challenge for many Australians, with more people spending a higher proportion of their incomes on housing than in the past and fewer younger people owning their own homes.
‘More than 1 million low-income households were in housing stress in 2017-18, where they spent more than 30% of their income on rent or mortgage repayments,’ Mr Indraharan said.
There has been little change in income inequality since the mid-2000s—though it is higher now than it was in the 1980s—and wealth is more unequally distributed than income.
Most crime rates have fallen in recent years but Australia ranked in the bottom third of countries for people feeling safe walking alone at night.
‘Survey data shows rates of partner and sexual violence have remained relatively stable since 2005, while rates of total violence have fallen. However, the number and rate of sexual assault victims recorded by police has risen each year since 2011,’ Mr. Indraharan said.
Welfare services and support for people in need
Australian governments spent nearly $161 billion on welfare services and support in 2017-18, including $102 billion on cash payments to specific populations, $48 billion on welfare services and $10 billion on unemployment benefits. Per person spending on welfare increased an average of 1.3% a year—from $5,287 per person in 2001–02 to $6,482 in 2017–18.
Over the past 2 decades, there has been a notable fall in the number of people aged 18–64 receiving income support—down from 2.6 million in 1999 to 2.3 million in 2018. Put another way, in 1999, 22% of Australians aged 18–64 received income support, but this fell to 15% in 2018.
‘Indigenous wellbeing is shaped by the wellbeing of the community. In recent years there have been improvements in a range of areas of wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,’ Mr Indraharan said.
‘Indigenous home ownership has risen over the past decade, from 34% in 2006 to 38% in 2016, household overcrowding has decreased, and fewer Indigenous Australians rely on government payments.’
Education remains important in helping to overcome Indigenous disadvantage. The employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians narrows as education levels increase. There is no gap in the employment rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians with a university degree.
Despite these improvements, some Indigenous Australians experience widespread social and economic disadvantage. One in 5 Indigenous Australians live in remote areas and fare worse than those in non-remote areas. They had lower rates of school attendance and employment, and were more likely to live in overcrowded conditions and in social housing.
Members of the Stolen Generations are another particularly disadvantaged group. They were more likely than other Indigenous Australians to have been incarcerated, receive government payments as their main source of income, experience actual or threatened physical violence or experience homelessness.
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