Welfare in Australia

  • The Australian Government and state and territory governments spent an estimated $157 billion on welfare in 2015–16 (cash payments, welfare services, and unemployment benefits), up from $117 billion in 2006–07. This is an average growth rate (in real terms) of 3.4% per annum.
  • Per person expenditure on welfare rose an average of 1.7% a year over the 10-year period in real terms (from $5,663 to $6,566 per Australian resident).
  • Welfare spending now accounts for a larger proportion of gross domestic product than before: 9.5% in 2015–16 compared with 8.6% in 2006–07.
  • In 2015, the welfare workforce represented 4.1% of the total workforce in Australia, an estimated 478,000 workers. The number of workers has increased by 84% since 2005.

See Chapter 1 for more information.

Vulnerable groups

  • About 4.4% (1 in 23) of Australians are estimated to experience deep and persistent disadvantage, as measured by social exclusion. However, this masks much higher rates among some population groups—for example, 24% of people living in public housing (more than 5 times the national average), 15% of people dependent on income support (more than 3 times), and 11% of Indigenous Australians (more than twice) live with deep and persistent disadvantage.
  • Children under 15 in single-parent families were more than 3 times as likely to be in relative income poverty as those in two-parent families (41% compared with 13%) in 2013–14.
  • About 46,500 children were in out-of-home care as at 30 June 2016. Indigenous children were 10 times as likely to be in out-of-home care (57 per 1,000 children) as non-Indigenous children (5.8 per 1,000) in 2015–16.
  • Young people aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision during 2014–15 were 15 times as likely as the general population to be involved with the child protection system in the same year.
  • One in 6 Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former cohabiting partner since the age of 15. This compares with 1 in 19 men.
  • Indigenous people living in Very remote areas are 1.4 times as likely to be unemployed and 1.5 times as likely to receive a government pension or allowance as their main source of income as Indigenous people living in Major cities.

See Chapters 1, 2 and 7 for more information.

Education and employment

  • In 2015, 4 in 5 children (78%) starting school were considered to be ‘on track’ developmentally, slightly higher than in 2009 (76%).
  • Results for national literacy and numeracy testing in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 have largely plateaued for students since 2008, and in the Programme for International Student Assessment test, Australia’s 2015 results were significantly lower than those for 2009.
  • 2.2 million people aged 15–64 were enrolled in formal study towards a non-school qualification in 2016—1.3 million (59%) were attending a higher education institution such as a university.
  • There were 168,800 people commencing apprenticeships and traineeships in 2016—the lowest number since 1998.
  • The proportion of Indigenous people aged 20–24 who had attained Year 12 or an equivalent level of education rose significantly from 45% in 2008 to 62% in 2014–15. Progress is on track to halve the gap in Year 12 attainment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people by 2020.
  • Many more jobs today are part time: 31% of all jobs in 2016 involved part-time hours compared with 10% in 1966.
  • The proportion of workers who were underemployed is at its highest level since the late 1970s, accounting for 9.3% of all employed people in 2016.
  • The labour force participation rate has more than doubled among people aged 65 and over in the past 30 years, from 5.1% in 1986 to 13% in 2016. This reflects greater life expectancies and delayed retirement compared with previous generations.
  • The proportion of lower skilled people (highest qualification Year 10 and below, including Certificate I/II) who were employed fell from 59% in 2008 to 54% in 2016. People whose highest qualification was a Bachelor degree maintained a steady rate of employment over the same period (around 84% employed in 2008 and 2016).
  • One in 20 (5.1%) people aged 15–19 were not engaged in any form of education, training or employment in 2016 compared with 7.7% in 2005. By comparison, the rate for people aged 20–24 (around 12%) was similar in both 2005 and 2016.

See Chapters 3, 4 and 7 for more information.

Ageing, disability and informal care

  • Australia’s population profile is changing. In 2017, an estimated 3.8 million Australians (15% of the population) are aged 65 and over, compared with 2.2 million (13%) in 2007.
  • About 4.3 million Australians (18%) have a disability, and about 1.4 million people (5.8%) have a severe or profound core activity limitation. While the overall number of people with disability has increased from 4 million in 2003, the proportion of the population with disability has decreased over time (from 20% in 2003 to 18% in 2015).
  • Dementia is a substantial challenge to Australia. Estimates suggest that in 2017, around 365,000 Australians have dementia. This number is projected to more than double to 900,000 people by 2050.
  • In 2015, Australia had 2.7 million informal carers, of whom 856,100 were primary carers. One-third of primary carers spent 40 hours or more per week in their caring role, and one-third had spent 10 or more years in this role.

See Chapters 5 and 8 for more information.

Housing and homelessness

  • Between 1994–95 and 2013–14, the proportion of Australians who owned their home outright fell from 42% to 31%, and more home owners financed their purchase with a mortgage (rising from 30% to 36%). The 2016 Census confirmed these trends (see Box A).
  • Over the same period, the proportion of people renting from private landlords rose from 18% to 26%. Those renters experienced a 62% ($144) rise in average weekly housing costs, after adjustment for inflation.
  • A smaller proportion of people aged 25–34 own a home today than 25 years ago—39% in 2013–14, compared with 60% in 1988–89.
  • In 2015–16, 38% (106,000) of all clients seeking assistance from specialist homelessness services had experienced family and domestic violence. Of these clients, 92% were women and children, including 31,000 children under 15.
  • Compared with other households, Indigenous households are less than half as likely to own their own home, more than twice as likely to rent, more than 7 times as likely to live in social housing, and more than 3 times as likely to live in overcrowded dwellings.

See Chapters 6 and 7 for more information.

How are we faring?

Based on an assessment of trends in the Australia’s welfare indicators, we are faring well on many aspects of wellbeing:

  • Purchasing power has improved over the last 30 years. Australia’s net disposable income per capita, adjusted for inflation, has increased by 1.9%, on average, per year.
  • Weekly household income rose for all income quintile groups between 1994–95 and 2013–14.
  • Education levels among people aged 15–74 have been increasing over time, from 55% holding a non-school qualification in 2009 to 59% in 2016.
  • The level of school attendance for young people in youth justice detention rose between 2011–12 and 2015–16 (96% to 98% for students of compulsory school age and 93% to 99% for students of non-compulsory school age).
  • The proportion of employees working 50 hours or more per week (in paid employment) dropped between 2004 and 2017—from 26% to 20% for males and 8% to 7% for females.
  • We are living longer and enjoying more years without disability: years of life lived without disability rose by 3.9 years for males and 3 years for females between 2003 and 2015.
  • Australia enjoys high air quality compared with many other OECD countries and our greenhouse gas emissions have been gradually falling since 2000.
  • Crime victimisation rates fell between 2008–09 and 2015–16 for most types of serious crime, such as physical assault and malicious property damage.
  • Our perceptions of safety have also improved. More than half of us (52%) reported feeling very safe or safe walking alone in our local area after dark in 2014, compared with 48% in 2006.
  • The proportion of Indigenous households living in overcrowded conditions fell from 27% in 2004–05 to 21% in 2014–15.

However, a few aspects of our lives warrant closer attention:

  • In 2013–14, 1 in 2 lower income rental households were in housing stress, that is, spending more than 30% of their gross income on housing costs. This is up from 42% in 2005–06.
  • While the distribution of income in Australia has shown little change in recent years, income inequality has risen since the mid-1990s as measured by the Gini coefficient.
  • Although employment rates have fluctuated over time, there has been an upward trend for youth unemployment rates and for long-term unemployment as a proportion of all unemployment between 2008–2009 and 2017.
  • Volunteering rates among adults declined from 36% in 2010 to 31% in 2014.
  • Men are more than twice as likely as women to report feeling safe walking alone at night (72% compared with 34% in 2014).

See Chapter 9 for more information.

PDF report table of contents

Preliminary material: Preface; Acknowledgments

Chapter 1 Welfare in Australia (7.7MB XLS)

Chapter 2 Children, youth and families (5.7MB XLS)

Chapter 3 Education in Australia (2.8MB XLS)

Chapter 4 Our working lives (4MB XLS)

Chapter 5 Ageing and aged care (338KB XLS)

Chapter 6 Housing and Homelessness (7MB XLS)

Chapter 7 Indigenous Australians (13MB XLS)

Chapter 8 Disability and carers (1.3MB XLS)

Chapter 9 Indicators of Australia’s welfare (1.4MB XLS)

End matter: Glossary; Acronyms and abbreviations; Methods and conventions; Symbols; Index