An indicator is something that points to, measures or otherwise provides a summary overview of a specific concept (QRI, 2021). Indicators are usually reported in sets. Collectively they can be used to show how a project, program or system is changing or progressing towards specific goals or outcomes.

In Australia, there are a number of indicator sets associated with national agreements. For instance:

A conceptual framework is often used to provide a theoretical basis for an indicator set. Such frameworks offer a formal way to think about a complex subject and serve to describe broad aspects of the areas being measured. A strong conceptual framework is a valuable instrument for establishing a coherent and balanced set of indicators that can be organised and reported on in a meaningful way.

Frameworks also depict the relationships between the subject’s key topic areas, and provide transparency in describing which aspects are being assessed (or not able to be assessed) by the associated indicator set.

Conceptual framework for Australia’s welfare

Australia’s welfare system is a multifaceted web of services, payments, sociodemographic influences and other factors that fall outside of the welfare ‘system’. 

A conceptual framework for Australia’s welfare is presented in Figure 1. The framework aims to recognise the role of individual and community level determinants (i.e. the factors that influence a person’s likelihood of needing welfare support) in improving wellbeing outcomes and social conditions more broadly. It focuses simultaneously on welfare service performance and overall population wellbeing. In doing so, it reflects the complexity of welfare as a concept and aims to show how many interrelated factors affect wellbeing.

 Figure 1: Conceptual framework for Australia’s welfare

The framework in Figure 1 comprises the following four core domains:

  • Determinants of wellbeing are factors that can positively or negatively affect a person’s wellbeing, and thus reduce or increase the likelihood they will need welfare assistance. For example, a person’s health status may affect a range of factors linked closely to their wellbeing, including that person’s ability to work, earn an income or contribute to their community.
  • Wellbeing represents the social conditions and other aspects of people’s lives that people consider to be reflective of a ‘good life’. This domain reflects other wellbeing reporting frameworks including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) How’s Life framework (OECD, 2020) which focuses on material living conditions, quality of life and wellbeing.
  • Welfare services and supports are provided to vulnerable individuals and families of widely differing ages and social and economic circumstances. Services are provided by government or non-government organisations, while informal support can be provided by friends, family and community groups. Major welfare service types relate to homelessness services, social housing, youth justice, child protection, family support. Other major welfare services include aged care and services for people with disability – two sectors that are the focus of recent and current royal commissions.
  • Contextual factors are the overarching conditions and trends which can influence the allocation of welfare expenditure and workforce capacity. They can help enable or inhibit people’s ability to meet their everyday needs. Factors may include sociodemographic trends (for example, population ageing and immigration patterns), policy settings and general economic conditions (for example, Gross Domestic Product and labour market efficiency). In 2020 and 2021, major contextual factors also include the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent economic impacts and government policy responses. The pandemic will continue to be a considerable contextual factor.

For more information, see Understanding welfare and wellbeing.

Australia’s welfare indicators

As discussed in Understanding welfare and wellbeing and as shown in Figure 1, wellbeing can be influenced by social and economic factors at the individual, family and community level, and each person’s unique circumstances and experiences contributes to their wellbeing equation. Wellbeing is a complex synthesis of factors that influence happiness or satisfaction with our lives and it can also be highly individual and subjective, with different meanings for different people. Certain elements of wellbeing can be particularly difficult to measure and interpret (for example, happiness, confidence, fair treatment), but many other factors that shape wellbeing can be measured. As such, a range of measures (or indicators) need to be used to provide insights on, and track changes in, wellbeing more broadly and at the national level.

Currently, Australia does not have a nationally agreed set of indicators for reporting on the performance of the welfare system.

The AIHWs Indicator framework for Australia’s welfare measures and reports on the key domains of the conceptual framework for Australia’s welfare (Figure 1).

Collectively, the indicators summarise the performance of Australia’s welfare system, track individual and household determinants of the need for welfare support, and provide insights into the nation’s wellbeing status more broadly. The indicators are largely drawn from existing national agreements and reporting frameworks.

Many other frameworks exist which are designed to measure welfare or wellbeing. Among these are the Australian Capital Territory Wellbeing Framework (ACT, 2021), New Zealand Treasury’s Living Standards Framework (New Zealand Treasury, 2021), Stats NZ’s Indicators Aotearoa framework (Stats NZ 2021), and the OECD’s wellbeing framework and biennial How’s Life report (OECD 2021). The AIHW framework differs from these by its interest in the performance of the welfare system.

The current AIHW indicator framework comprises 52 indicators categorised into 4 core domains and 14 sub-domains, or themes (Figure 2).

While wellbeing measures can stand alone, in the context of Australia’s welfare, it is the interrelationships between wellbeing and the other domains of the framework that are of interest. For example, the outcomes measured in the Wellbeing domain may have an impact on our opportunities and choices in life and, to some extent, determine when and how we might interact with the welfare system. The complexity of interactions between the indicators means that the placement of indicators within particular domains can be somewhat arbitrary—that is, some indicators could sit just as easily in one domain as another. The AIHW has focused on coverage and completeness of the indicator set as a whole, and encourages readers to view the indicators on the same basis.

All indicators are presented at a national level, with a focus on trends over time. Results for some indicators are disaggregated by state and territory and other population subgroups, such as sex, age group and income quintile.

International comparisons for a range of welfare measures are summarised in International comparisons of welfare data.

Figure 2: Indicator framework for Australia’s welfare

The scale of the welfare system, combined with the need to keep the indicator set to a manageable size, means that most of the framework indicators serve as sentinel indicators for the topic they represent. That is, they convey a high-level reading of the topic rather than a detailed or in-depth report on it.

This approach aims to highlight results in areas of interest and assist users to ask meaningful questions about the reasons behind the results.

In selecting indicators for the framework, we consider that they must be:

  • relevant to policy and program delivery and improvement
  • technically robust (for example, valid, reliable, sensitive, unambiguous)
  • understandable
  • feasible to measure
  • lead to action.

See Australia’s welfare indicators for a list of the current indicators.

All indicators can also be accessed from this page. The below drop-down boxes list the indicators by domain and sub-domain. Select an indicator to view the data.

An evolving project

AIHW acknowledge that the current indicator framework may not be comprehensive in its description of the welfare system, nor does it provide the full picture of the wellbeing of Australians.

Indeed, such a complete indicator framework would be unrealistic given the coverage and quality of existing data. Further, there are inherent difficulties associated with the measuring and reporting on many aspects of wellbeing (for example, happiness, confidence, fair treatment).

In selecting the indicators, a balance is sought between maintaining the framework’s conceptual integrity while also reporting information in a way that is useful and can support improvements in performance (and ultimately outcomes).

The AIHW has presented statistics about the performance of Australia’s welfare system in Australia’s welfare reports since 1993 and first reported welfare indicators in these reports in 2003. Since then, the conceptual framework for Australia’s welfare has evolved and broadened in perspective. The AIHW are committed to the continual development of the indicator framework for Australia’s welfare and welcome comments and suggestions for improvement (please send to [email protected]).

We anticipate that ongoing refinement over time will enhance the framework, particularly as data availability and data quality increase and improve.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on welfare indicator frameworks, see:

View Australia’s welfare indicators for more on this topic.

References

ACT Government 2021. ACT Wellbeing Framework. Canberra: Australian Capital Territory Wellbeing Framework. Viewed 6 May 2021.New Zealand Treasury 2018. Measuring wellbeing: the LSF dashboard. Wellington: New Zealand Treasury. Viewed 15 June March 2021.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2020. Measuring well-being and progress: Well-being research. Paris: OECD. Viewed 15 June 2021.

OECD 2020. How’s life? 2020 Measuring wellbeing. Viewed 15 June 2021.

QRI (Quality Research International) 2021. Social Research Glossary. Viewed 15 June 2021.

Stats New Zealand 2021. Wellbeing data for New Zealanders. Viewed 15 June 2021.