Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Welfare workforce, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 09 February 2023.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Welfare workforce. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/welfare-workforce
Welfare workforce. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 September 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/welfare-workforce
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Welfare workforce [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2023 Feb. 9]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/welfare-workforce
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Welfare workforce, viewed 9 February 2023, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/welfare-workforce
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A diversity of welfare services are provided through public and private organisations. They range, for example, from care for the elderly in residential aged care facilities to counselling and social assistance for students in educational settings. The quality of the welfare sector and the assistance it can provide are influenced by the size, characteristics and accessibility of its workforce.
The welfare workforce is made up of people in paid employment who directly provide welfare-related services, such as teachers in child care facilities, but outside such sectors as health and hospitality. Volunteering is reported on separately.
See the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) General Social Survey – summary results, Australia for more information on volunteering.
The welfare workforce is difficult to quantify and study, particularly due to overlaps with and movements between sectors such as health, and the lack of a dedicated data collection focusing on this professional group. Given these limitations, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has identified a combination of labour force categories from the ABS Labour Force Survey (ABS 2020) as the best approximation for the welfare workforce.
The focus on this page is on people working in welfare or community services roles within community service industries.
See Defining the welfare workforce.
The AIHW derives estimates of the Australian welfare workforce using the categories of community service occupations and community service industries from the ABS Labour Force Survey (ABS 2020). Community service industries consist of 3 main groups:
This definition excludes some people in community service occupations who do not work in a community service industry. For example, a registered nurse working in a hospital would not be classified as part of the welfare workforce, though a registered nurse working in a residential aged care setting would be.
This definition also excludes professional groups that help support the welfare sector, such as Services Australia staff, and medical professionals who provide services in welfare settings.
In 2020, Australia’s welfare workforce comprised more than 588,000 people (Table 1) and made up 4.6% of the country’s working population. In comparison, spending in the welfare sector by governments in Australia accounted for 9.7% of overall economic activity in 2019–20, with spending on welfare services making up 34% of welfare spending.
Note that the main data used on this page are drawn from ABS survey data and may be affected by the sample variances issue of small sample sizes.
See the ABS web pages Labour Force, Australia methodology and Employee earnings and hours, Australia methodology for more information on the sample sizes.
Community service industries
588,475 people employed in community service occupations in community service industries (for example, child care workers in the child care services industry): this is considered to be the welfare workforce of Australia on this page
196,775 people employed in other occupations in community service industries (for example, as administrators, accountants, tradespersons and labourers)
567,775 people employed in community service occupations in other industries (for example, nurses working in hospitals and counsellors in the education industry)
Note: Annual average of quarterly data from original series estimates.
Source: ABS 2020.
Between 2010 and 2020, the welfare workforce in Australia grew by 53% to more than 588,000 people (ABS 2020), while the total workforce increased by 15%. Over the same period, spending on welfare services increased by 111%, after adjusting for inflation (see Welfare expenditure).
In 2020, each type of community service industry employed more than 700 people per 100,000 population (Figure 1). Since 2010, the number of people employed per 100,000 has increased in each welfare workforce industry.
This figure shows the number of employed per 100,000 population within each of the three community service industries from 2010 to 2020. The preschool education and childcare service industry saw a gradual increase since 2010. While the residential care service industry was almost unchanged during 2018–2020, the other social assistance service industry had increased significant in the same period.
In 2020, about half (51%) of the people employed in community service occupations worked in community service industries – similar to the proportion for 2010 (48%).
The largest occupational group of the welfare workforce since 2010 – care workers in the aged and disability sectors – employed 804 per 100,000 population in 2020, a rise from 461 per 100,000 in 2010 (Figure 2). In fact, the number of people employed per 100,000 population in all welfare workforce occupations increased, except for enrolled and mothercraft nurses, nursing support, personal care workers, and counsellors.
This figure shows the proportion of each community service occupation that worked in a community service industry in 2010 and 2020. Half of the people employed in community service occupations (51%) were employed in community service industries 2020, compared with only 48% in 2010. Aged and disabled carers, child carers, early childhood teachers, and nursing support and personal care workers remained as largely employed within community service industries since 2010. In 2020, welfare, recreation and community arts workers, social workers, and welfare support workers were largely employed within community service industries whilst they were employed elsewhere in 2010.
In 2020, 402,000 people in the welfare workforce were employed part time (ABS 2020). Part-time workers made up about 50% of this workforce in 2020 – almost unchanged from the proportion in 2010. About 71% of those providing care as enrolled and mothercraft nurses worked part time, with psychologists being the least likely to be employed part time (33%) (Figure 3).
This figure shows the proportion of employment status (unemployed, part-time and full-time) in the welfare workforce. In 2020, part-time workers and full-time workers had almost the same share (49%, and 47% respectively). While enrolled and mothercraft nurses sector has the highest share of part-time workers, psychologists were least likely to be employed part time (33%).
The majority (85%) of Australia’s welfare workforce in 2020 was female – a proportion relatively unchanged since 2010 (it was 87% in 2010). Females are proportionally over‑represented in the welfare workforce given that they made up only 47% of Australia’s total workforce in 2020 (ABS 2020) (Figure 4).
The average age of the welfare workforce in 2020 was 41.8, a slight reduction from what it was in 2010 (42.5 years). This reduction is due to an increase in the proportion of the workforce aged under 35. Child carers was the occupational group with the youngest average age (34.9 years), nearly 7 years younger than the average age of the welfare workforce (Figure 4).
Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people made up 2.3% of the welfare workforce in 2020. Of all welfare workforce occupations, Welfare, recreation and community arts workers was the occupational group with the highest proportion of workers identifying as Indigenous (11%) (Figure 4).
In 2020, 1 in 20 (4.5%) workers in the welfare workforce had postgraduate degrees and 1 in 8 (13%) had Bachelor’s degrees. About 1 in 6 (17%) had a skilled vocational qualification/s (ABS 2020).
According to the most recent data in Brennan and colleagues (2019), 28% of care workers in 2016 were born in other than the main English-speaking countries – up from 21% in 2011.
This figure shows the average age, gender characteristic and indigenous status of the welfare workforce for 2010 and 2020. In 2020, compared with the workforce of all occupations, the community service workers have older average age (40.8 vs 41.8) and higher Indigenous share (1.2% vs 2.3%). In 2020, female workers dominates the community service occupations with more than 87% of total workforce.
Due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the ABS has not completed its biennial Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours for 2020. Thus, the most up-to-date data on worker hours and payment of the welfare workforce are those in the ABS Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours collected in May 2018.
In May 2018, the average earnings of the welfare workforce were lower than those of the same occupations working in other industries – ($32.02 per hour compared with $41.28 per hour; and $838.90 per week compared with $1,106.40, respectively) (Figure 5).
Average weekly earnings for the welfare workforce increased by 17% from August 2008 ($719.60 in real terms) compared with 8.0% for the same occupations working in other industries. Registered nurses had the highest average earnings per hour of the selected occupations in the welfare workforce in 2018 ($48.87 per hour) while Child carers had the lowest ($25.13 per hour) (ABS 2019).
Although a gender breakdown in earning for the welfare workforce is not publicly available, the ABS (2021) reports that, in the health care and social assistance industry in May 2018, the weekly average earning of a full-time female worker was $1,581 compared with $1,743 for a full-time male worker.
This figure shows the average weekly earnings of selected welfare workforce occupations in May 2018. Welfare workforce occupations earned less on average compared with other occupations in the community service industry ($838.90 per week compared with $1033.70 per week). Welfare workforce occupations also earned less on average compared with the same occupations working in other industries ($1106.40). The highest paid welfare workforce occupation were social workers ($1395.40 per week) while the lowest paid were child carers ($676.10 per week).
A survey of 744 community sector managers and workers in July 2020 (Cortis & Blaxland 2020) identified some issues related to increased workload due to the COVID‑19 pandemic:
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a range of impacts on the recruitment and retention of staff. Almost 1 in 3 (31%) organisations reported that they had introduced a freeze on staff recruitment, and more than one-fifth (21%) of leaders advised that their organisation had reduced full-time equivalent staffing levels. These results should be interpreted with caution, however, because of small-sized sampling issues.
In general, the National Skills Commission (NSC) considers that the welfare workforce in Australia has shown occupational resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic (NSC 2020). It assigned occupational resilience scores for occupations, based on:
Among a total of 358 occupations, the NSC ranked Aged and disabled carers; Welfare, recreation and community arts workers; Health and welfare service managers; and Registered nurses within the top 20 of the most resilient (NSC 2020).
Due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health has not completed its 2020 Aged Care Workforce Census. Thus, the 2016 Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey is the most comprehensive and most recent data available (Mavromaras et al. 2017).
The analyses conducted for this page excluded aged care volunteers (about 68,000 people in 2016) and informal primary carers (about 428,500 in 2018) from the aged care workforce (RCACQS 2021).
In their analysis, Mavromaras and colleagues (2017) noted the following characteristics of workers in the aged care workforce.
In the period of 2003-2016, there was a relative decline in the proportion of nurses in the aged care workforce in both residential and home care & home support settings, with a corresponding increase in personal care workers and community care workers.
In 2016, 41% of residential facilities experienced shortages of registered nurses, while 33% of community outlets experienced shortages of community care workers (Mavromaras et al. 2017).
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (RCACQS) (2021) noted that the challenges involved in attracting and retaining aged care workers are magnified in rural and remote Australia. In 2016, more than 55% of residential facilities in Remote and Very remote areas reported registered nurse shortages compared with 34% in Major cities.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2020) identified quality labour shortage as one of the biggest popular challenges in long-term aged care in OECD countries.
A survey of 3,286 respondents in April 2021 by the Australian National University found that only 5.0% of those asked said they would definitely recommend to a young person that they work in the industry (Biddle & Makkai 2021).
This figure shows the number of direct care employees and its proportion in aged care workforce for 2003, 2007, 2012 and 2016 in residential aged care and community sectors. While the proportion of registered and enrolled nurses decreased in both sectors, the share of personal care attendants and community care sector increases markedly in the same period.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the physical health of workers in residential aged care facilities in Australia. As at 5 February 2021, 215 residential aged care facilities had experienced an outbreak of COVID-19. Between 1 March 2020 and 3 February 2021, 2,227 aged care workers tested positive for COVID-19 (with aged care facilities in Victoria accounting for 98% of these cases) (Department of Health 2021a).
Data about other impacts of the pandemic on the aged care workforce are limited and scattered but initial findings indicate an adverse effect on the workload of the aged care workforce. However, as data related to COVID-19 impacts all came from small-sized surveys, these results should be interpreted with caution.
A survey conducted by the Australia Nursing & Midwifery Federation (ANMF) from 15 April to 6 May 2020 of 1,513 aged care workers in all states/territories found that the pandemic had increased the workload of direct care employees of residential aged care services (ANMF 2020). Two-thirds (67%) of respondents reported that staffing of nurses and care personnel had not increased in response to the pandemic.
Data from the United Workers Union’s (UWU’s) survey of over 1,000 workers during May and June 2020 reflected a similar situation: two-thirds of residential care workers and almost half of home care workers reported that their workload had increased since the pandemic (UWU 2020).
During 2019–20, the Australian Government announced more than $850 million in COVID-specific support to aged care services. In this package, $101.2 million was used to:
An additional $444.6 million was spent on specific mechanisms to support the aged care workforce, as well as $78.3 million for residential care providers and $22 million under the Home Care Packages Program to support workforce continuity (Department of Health 2020).
As at 26 February 2021, the Australian Government had conducted 316,900 COVID-19 tests at 2,356 residential aged care facilities nationally.
Apart from the usual assessment and auditing program, the RCACQS undertook, nationally, 3,238 unannounced visits and announced/short-notice visits to monitor infection control between March 2020 and February 2021.
Both state and National Aged Care Emergency Response (NACER) teams have provided more than 100 clinical personnel and support staff to work with active residential aged care outbreaks (Department of Health 2021a).
In the Australian Government’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy announced in January 2021, aged care workers were in the first of 5 phases of the roll-out (Department of Health 2021b).
In its report commissioned by the RCACQS, the UWU (2020) noted that over three-quarters of respondents reported not having enough staff to provide quality care during the pandemic. Over 90% of residential care workers and over 80% of home care workers advised that they did not have enough time to complete tasks.
The ANMF (2020) stated that over 80% of respondents reported having a registered nurse rostered on all shifts but if nurses did not come into work or called in sick, they were not replaced. Respondents also reported that having only 1 registered nurse was often not enough for the number of residents.
Some evidence suggests that the pandemic negatively affected the wellbeing of aged care workers who are employed on a casual basis and who ordinarily worked in multiple facilities. Almost two-thirds (64%) of participants reported staff cuts since the start of March 2020. These cuts often adversely affected those casual workers forced to choose between employers, given that now they could work at only one facility to avoid potentially spreading the virus across different facilities (ANMF 2020). According to the UWU submission (2020), almost half of home care workers reported working fewer hours since the pandemic (with consequential potential impacts on income earned).
Other information reported on wellbeing and mental health included:
The RCACQS was established in December 2018 to conduct an inquiry into the quality of aged care services and recommend how best to deliver these services to Australians.
See the RCACQS final report for more details, including the Commission’s recommendations on short- and long-term reforms of the aged care workforce.
The progressive roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) started in mid-2016 and is now fully operational in all states and territories. On 30 September 2020, the Scheme was providing services to 412,543 participants (JSCNDIS 2020).
The disability workforce grew 11% per year from September 2015 to September 2017, compared with just 1.6% growth for the entire Australian workforce (Lui & Alcorso 2018).
The Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme estimated that, in 2019, there were around 138,000 full-time equivalent workers, including:
Analysis by the Department of Social Services showed that, in 2020, around 270,000 workers were employed across 20 occupations by over 11,600 active NDIS providers. Of these, 66% were home-based support workers, 24% community-based support workers, 7.4% allied health workers, and 3% other workers (DSS 2021).
The 2020 National Disability Service’s Workforce Census Survey registered a distinct shift towards permanent employment throughout the sector, which increased to 62% in June 2020 marking the highest level since September 2015 (NDS 2020).
This figure shows changes in different employment types in the disability workforce during 2015–2020. After decreasing in the 2015–2016 period, the share of permanent workers rose again from Q4-2017 to reach just over 60% in Q2-2020. Casual staff contributed from 35% to 45% over the whole period. Meanwhile, part-time employees played an important role in the disability workforce, contributing 79% of total number.
Little data are available on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the disability workforce; the results presented here should therefore be interpreted with caution.
Initial findings show a change in the turnover rate of casual workers: having sat between 6% and 11% between 2016 and 2019, the rate rose sharply to 22% in June 2020 (NDS 2020). The authors of the NDS (2020) report argue that this sudden change might have been prompted by uncertain employment conditions arising from the economic impacts of the pandemic. As the National Disability Service’s Workforce Census Survey (which surveyed a group of registered providers) focused on the ‘within firm’ turnover in the casual workforce, the results may differ from numbers reported elsewhere.
Based on analysis of 2020 NDIS claims, and de-identified 2016–2018 Australian Taxation Office data, latest figures from the NDIS Workforce Plan are that the NDIS loses between 17–25% of its workforce (both permanent and casual) to churn every year (DSS 2021).
The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the use of international students as casual disability workers. To help boost frontline health efforts to tackle COVID-19, in April 2020, the Australian Government allowed international students studying relevant medical courses to be exempt from the 40-hour per fortnight work limit, if working in support of pandemic health efforts and at the direction of the relevant health authority.
Before this policy was enacted, almost 80% of disability facilities that employed international students did so for 20 hours or fewer a fortnight. However, after the change, 16% of those respondents reported that their students worked an additional 30 hours per fortnight, and a further 1 in 6 students for an additional 20 hours per fortnight (NDS 2020).
Some studies in the early stage of the pandemic noted that the pandemic was associated with increased workloads and unsafe working condition of disability workers. A University of New South Wales study surveyed 2,341 disability support workers during March 2020. One of the findings was a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to disability support workers, and these workers were worried about not only the risk of disease infection this posed but also the additional workloads at the start of the pandemic (Cortis & van Toorn 2020a).
The University of Melbourne conducted an online survey during May and June of 357 disability support workers. Ninety per cent of the disability workforce surveyed were unable to practise physical distancing at work, 25% had had no PPE training and close to 70% wanted more training (Kavanagh et al. 2020).
Australian Government measures include:
For more information on the Australian welfare workforce, see:
For more information on the impact of COVID-19 on the Australian aged care and disability workforces, see:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours, May 2008 and May 2018. Customised report. ABS cat. no. 6306.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 22 January 2021
ABS 2020. Labour Force Survey, 2010 and 2020 (February, May, August and November). Customised report. ABS cat. no. 6291.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 22 January 2021
ABS 2021. Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours, May 2010 to November 2020. ABS cat. no. 6306.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 26 February 2021
ANMF (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation – Federal Office) 2020. National COVID-19 in Aged Care Survey – final report. Melbourne: ANMF. Viewed 2 March 2021.
Biddle N & Makkai T 2021. Views and experience of the aged care system in Australia – April 2021. Canberra: Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University. Viewed 28 June 2021.
Brennan D, Charlesworth S, Hill E & Peng I 2019. Markets, migration & the work of care in Australia. Sydney: Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales. Viewed 7 June 2021.
Cortis N & Blaxland M 2020. Australia’s community sector and COVID-19: supporting communities through the crisis. Sydney: Australian Council of Social Service.
Cortis N & van Toorn G 2020a. The disability workforce and COVID-19: initial experiences of the outbreak. Sydney: Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales. Viewed 15 January 2021.
Cortis N & van Toorn G 2020b. Working in new disability markets: a survey of Australia’s disability workforce. Sydney: Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales. Viewed 15 January 2021.
Department of Health 2020. 2019–20 Report on the operation of the Aged Care Act 1997. Canberra: Department of Health.
Department of Health 2021a. COVID-19 outbreaks in Australian residential aged care facilities – 22 January 2021. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 4 March 2021.
Department of Health 2021b. Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine national rollout strategy. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 4 March 2021,
DSS (Department of Social Services) 2021. NDIS National Workforce Plan: 2021–2025. Canberra: DSS. Viewed 10 June 2021.
Hunt, the Hon. G et al. 2020. Disability Royal Commission Public Hearing COVID-19 report. Joint media release by Minister for Health and Aged Care; the Hon. Senator A Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services; and the Hon. S Robert MP, Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme. 30 November 2020. Canberra. Viewed 19 April 2021.
JSCNDIS (Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme) 2020. NDIS Workforce interim report. Canberra: JSCNDIS. Viewed 12 January 2021.
Kavanagh A, Dimov S, Shields M, McAllister A, Dickinson H & Kavenagh M 2020. Disability support workers: the forgotten workforce in COVID-19. Research report. Melbourne: The University of Melbourne. Viewed 12 February 2021.
Lui A & Alcorso C 2018. Australian disability workforce report, 3rd edn, July 2018. Sydney: National Disability Services. Viewed 10 January 2021.
Mavromaras K, Knight G, Isherwood L, Crettenden A, Flavel J, Karmel T et al. 2017. National Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey – the aged care workforce, 2016. CanberraViewed 12 January 2021.
NDS (National Disability Services) 2020. NDS Workforce Census – key findings. June 2020. Canberra: NDS. Viewed 12 February 2021.
NSC (National Skills Commission) 2020. The shape of Australia’s post COVID-19 workforce, Australian Government. Canberra: NSC. Viewed 12 February 2021.
RCACQS (Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety) 2021. Final report: care, dignity and respect. Canberra: RCACQS. Viewed 1 May 2021
Services Australia 2020. Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment - New South Wales. Canberra: Services Australia. Viewed 19 April 2021.
UWU (United Workers Union) 2020. Submission to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety on the impact of coronavirus on the aged care sector. Canberra: UWU. 12 February 2021.
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