Welfare is a concept that extends beyond support payments and services—it encompasses the broad range of individual, social, political and environmental factors that can influence a person’s wellbeing. We need accurate, reliable data if we are to understand how these factors interact. The AIHW understands welfare as a concept that extends beyond the welfare systems, and one that affects wellbeing as illustrated by the diagram below.

This figure shows there are three interrelated factors that make up wellbeing: welfare services and supports, contextual factors and determinants of wellbeing.

As the characteristics of the Australian population change, understanding current and emerging societal shifts behind this change is crucial to appropriately and effectively deliver health and welfare services. Data are essential to understand how people engage with and navigate welfare services, and are useful for planning, implementing and delivering services. The ability to link data across different services helps in understanding pathways and relationships between health and welfare.

In the current data landscape there is an increased recognition of the importance of using data to improve outcomes for the population, while assuring privacy and security of data. The AIHW has a pivotal role in producing and reporting data to improve the wellbeing of Australians and, where possible, investigate the interrelationships.

The AIHW also compares outcomes for different population groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, people living in remote areas, older people, people with disability, people with mental illness, children in the child protection and justice systems, and prisoners.

However, gaps exist where there are no national data currently available or where data collected are not comprehensive. In the context of welfare data, there are gaps in some areas, including:

  • measurement of demand for welfare services—for example, unmet demand for specific welfare services, people who ‘fall through the cracks’ in the welfare systems
  • details about types of welfare services accessed—for example, supports provided under consumer-directed care models for aged care, services funded by non-government organisations
  • pathways through the welfare systems—for example, referral pathways, how people transition between different services and across different ‘systems’
  • outcomes for people who receive welfare services—for example, outcomes of aged care, the relationship between recidivism and social assistance.

A key focus of the AIHW is to fill data gaps related to health and welfare—working with data providers to enhance existing collections or create new ones. For example, the AIHW is using a longitudinal researchable database on income support payments and characteristics to examine the long-term welfare outcomes and transitions for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

This report highlights some interesting discussions and analyses across different areas of welfare in Australia. It also draws attention to areas where data and its use can be improved. The articles in the report illustrate that it is not just about having the data, but what is done with the data and how it can be used to improve health and welfare services to individuals, families and communities and achieve better outcomes.