Income and housing
28% of adults
with disability experienced worsening of household finances in the year to February 2021 (18% without disability)
13% of adults
with disability drew on savings to support basic living expenses (3.9% without disability)
7.5% of adults
with disability experienced rental stress in the previous 4 weeks (2.6% without disability)
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People with disability, and their households and families, are less likely than people without disability to have a high level of income, and are more likely to receive their income from government sources than from salary or wages. At the same time, many people with disability have greater costs of living than those without disability. A recent Australian study by Vu and colleagues (2020) estimated that, to achieve the same standard of living, people with disability needed to have adult-equivalent disposable income 50% higher than those without disability (Vu et al. 2020).
This section looks at people’s financial situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and at their expectations of future changes to their household finances and savings.
The data used in this section are largely from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey. This survey was designed to provide a quick snapshot of the changing social and economic situation for Australian households with particular focus on how they were faring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survey was initially conducted between April 2020 and June 2021. From 1 April to 10 July 2020, the survey was conducted fortnightly with the same panel of respondents. From August 2020, the survey was conducted monthly with a new panel. Panel members have rotated, with new members added in November 2020 and March 2021. At the time of writing, the June 2021 survey was the last in the series; the survey was subsequently reinstated for 3 months from February to April 2022.
Each cycle of the survey collected information on different topics. Some topics have been repeated in both fortnightly and monthly surveys. The topics included:
self-assessed physical and mental health
emotional and mental wellbeing
use of health services (including telehealth)
job situation (including access to leave, job search and working from home arrangements)
training and development of skills
household finances (including income, saving, spending and financial stress)
receipt of government assistance payments and supports
care and assistance provided to vulnerable people inside and outside of household
caring for children and child care and schooling arrangements during COVID-19
social contacts and participation in activities
personal and household stressors
COVID-19 vaccination attitudes and experiences
behaviours around COVID-19 testing
precautions taken due to COVID-19
life after COVID-19.
Disability status was captured in the survey using a subset of questions from the ABS Short Disability Module. While this module provides useful information about the characteristics of people with disability relative to those without, it is not recommended for use in measuring disability prevalence.
In the survey, a person is considered to have disability if they have one or more conditions (including long-term health conditions) which have lasted, or are likely to last, for at least 6 months and restrict everyday activities.
The survey collected data from people aged 18 and over in private dwellings across Australia (excluding very remote areas). It did not include people living in institutional settings, such as aged care facilities.
Due to constant and rapid changes in the COVID-19 situation, the numbers reported in this section should be viewed in the context of the situation at the time of data collection. Therefore, throughout this section, references are made to the month in which the data were collected. A brief timeline of COVID-19 in Australia between January 2020 and October 2021 is provided below for reference.
New daily COVID-19 cases1 in Australia between January 2020 and October 2021
1 New confirmed cases as announced. These do not include historical cases or technical adjustments and may differ from other data sources.
Source: COVID-19 in Australia
- first case of COVID-19 in Australia reported on 25 January 2020
- new cases among international arrivals only
- public health measures comprised blocking international arrivals from some countries.
March–April 2020 – first wave
- first cases of community transmission of the virus (2 March); the number of daily new cases grew sharply from the beginning of March, reached a peak of 464 on 28 March, and then started falling to fewer than 20 cases a day by the end of April
- Australian borders closed to all non-residents on 20 March; from 27 March, returning residents were required to spend 2 weeks in supervised quarantine hotels
- introduction of border control measures for some states and territories
- introduction of physical distancing rules (21 March), and restrictions on non-essential gatherings and services (such as pubs, gyms and cinemas) (22 March)
- announcement of first (12 March) and second (22 March) economic stimulus packages; a safety net package for mental health, telehealth and domestic violence services, and emergency food relief (29 March); JobKeeper payment (30 March) and free child care for working parents (2 April).
May–June 2020 – gradual easing of restrictions
- continuing international border closures; continuing state and territory border control measures for some jurisdictions; slight easing of restrictions in some states and territories (from 1–12 May)
- The National Cabinet’s three-stage plan to begin easing restrictions (8 May)
- Stage 1: allowing gatherings of up to 10 people, up to 5 visitors in the family home, and some local and regional travel
- Stage 2: expansion of stage 1, with gatherings of up to 20 people, and more businesses reopening, including gyms, beauty services and entertainment venues
- Stage 3: the ‘new normal’ – transition to COVID-safe ways of living and working, with gatherings of up to 100 people permitted
- average daily case numbers around 15 throughout May, fewer than 10 in the first half of June
- all jurisdictions in stage 2 and some in stage 3 during June.
July–October 2020 – second wave
- restrictions reinstated in regions of Victoria from 1 July due to new COVID-19 clusters
- second wave largely localised to Melbourne and much more widespread and deadlier than the first (at its peak, Victoria had more than 7,000 active cases).
- the wave ended with zero new cases being recorded on 26 October 2020.
November 2020–June 2021
- cluster outbreaks in late 2020 and mid-2021, with several brief snap lockdowns in certain states to contain the spread.
July–October 2021 – third wave
- an outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant during June 2021 in New South Wales caused lockdowns for almost half of Australia's population and most major cities from early July 2021
- the outbreak continued to worsen to new record daily cases into August. In late August to mid-September 2021 Victoria had its first 9 deaths since late October 2020.
People with disability were more likely than people without disability to report: that
- their household finances had worsened over the previous 12 months (28% compared with 18%, in February 2021)
- 8 in 10 people (regardless of disability status) whose financial situation had declined attributed the decline at least in part to COVID-19
- their household was unable to pay one or more selected bills on time in the previous 3 months due to a shortage of money (14% compared with 5.5%, in January 2021)
- they drew on accumulated savings or term deposits in the previous 4 weeks to support basic living expenses (13% compared with 6.9%, in January 2021)
- they had borrowed from family or friends in the previous 4 weeks to support basic living expenses (5.5% compared with 0.9%, in January 2021) (ABS 2021a, 2021b).
People with disability were less likely than those without disability to say that:
- their household expected to be able to pay all bills received in the next 3 months (85% of adults with disability compared with 93% of those without disability, in January 2021)
- they would be able to raise $2000 for something important within a week (74% compared with 82%, in January 2021) (ABS 2021a).
 Selected bills included electricity, gas or telephone bills, mortgage or rent payments, car registration or insurance, and home and/or contents insurance.
In June 2021, people with and without disability had similar expectations of changes to their household income and spending (Figure COVID.9):
- 2 in 3 adults with disability (66%) expected their household income to stay the same over the next 12 months, 22% expected income to increase, and 12% expected income to decrease
- 6 in 10 adults with disability (62%) expected their household expenses to stay the same over the next 12 months, 32% expected expenses to increase, and 6.2% expected expenses to decrease
- response patterns were similar for people without disability (ABS 2021e).
Figure COVID.9: Whether adults expect household finances to change over the next 12 months, by finance type and disability status, 2021
Column chart showing whether adults with and without disability expect their household finances to improve, stay the same, or worse over the next 12 months. The reader can select to display the chart by household finance type (finances, spending or saving). The chart shows adults with disability were less likely than adults without disability to say they expected their household to save money over the next 12 months (39% compared with 58% in June 2021).
However, people with disability were (Figure COVID.9):
- more likely to say they expected household finances overall to worsen over the next 12 months (17% for adults with disability compared with 8.7% for adults without disability, in May 2021)
- less likely to say they expected their household to be able to save money over the next 12 months (39% compared with 58% in June 2021) (ABS 2021d, 2021e).
Of those who expected their household spending to increase over the next 12 months (at June 2021), people with and without disability were equally likely to say the increase would be due to:
- increase in food or grocery expenses (22% for adults with disability and 18% for those without disability)
- increase in rent or mortgage (6.3% and 6.8%)
- increase in housing costs other than rent or mortgage (12% and 14%)
- increase in energy expenses (7.5% and 7.4%)
- increase in expenses other than those related to housing, food or groceries, or energy (27% and 24%) (ABS 2021e).
The Australian Government introduced a range of measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support individuals and businesses and stimulate the economy. These measures included lump sum payments, fortnightly supplement to eligible payment recipients, and support for businesses to keep people employed.
COVID-19 economic stimulus payments
Lump sum payments
Two lump sum payments of $750 each were paid to eligible recipients as part of an economic stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first payment was announced by the Australian Government on 12 March 2020 (with payments to be made from 31 March 2020) to current recipients of social security income support payments, family assistance payments, veterans payments, other eligible payment recipients and concession card holders (Prime Minister and Treasurer 2020a).
The second payment was announced on 22 March 2020 and was paid from 13 July 2020 to the same recipients as the first payment who were eligible for a qualifying payment or card on 10 July 2020, with the exception of those who were receiving the Coronavirus Supplement on 10 July 2020 (Prime Minister of Australia 2020b).
The Coronavirus Supplement was a payment of $550 per fortnight to be paid for at least 6 months. The Supplement was announced by the Australian Government on 22 March 2020, with payments starting from 27 April 2020 (Prime Minister and Treasurer 2020b).
Eligible recipients of the Coronavirus Supplement included current recipients of JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance, ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Austudy, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit. Recipients of Age Pension, Disability Support Pension (DSP), and Carer Payment were not eligible for the Coronavirus Supplement.
The Supplement was extended from 25 September 2020 to 31 December 2020, with the amount adjusted to $250 per fortnight. The eligibility criteria remained the same (Australian Government 2020).
From 1 January 2021, the Supplement was further extended at a rate of $150 per fortnight (Prime Minister and Minister for Families and Social Services 2020). The Coronavirus Supplement ended on 31 March 2021.
The JobKeeper Payment was a wage subsidy scheme introduced by the Australian Government and payable from 30 March 2020 (Prime Minister and Treasurer 2020c). The payment was open to eligible businesses which received a significant financial setback caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It provided a flat payment of $1,500 per fortnight through the employer, before tax.
The JobKeeper Payment was extended from 28 September, with a two-tier rate based on the number of hours worked per fortnight. Between 28 September 2020 and 3 January 2021, the full fortnightly rate was $1,200, with $750 paid to those who worked less than 20 hours per fortnight. From 4 January 2021, the fortnightly rates decreased to $1,000 for full rate and $650 for those working less than 20 hours per fortnight (Prime Minister, Treasurer and Minister for Families and Social Services 2020).
The JobKeeper Payment ended on 28 March 2021.
As reported in the Income and finance section of this report:
- 39% of people with disability aged 15–64 received government payments in 2017; of them 45% received Disability Support Pension (DSP) and a further 5.2% received Carer Payment
- 80% of people with disability aged 65 and over received government payments in 2017; of them 89% received Age Pension, 3.6% received Carer Payment, and 2.3% received DSP (DSS and MIAESR 2019).
This suggests that a large proportion of people with disability was likely not eligible for the fortnightly Coronavirus Supplement, either because they did not receive any government payments, or because the payments they received did not qualify for the Supplement.
The lower employment rate among working-age people with disability (48%, compared with 80% for those without disability in 2018, as reported in the Employment section of this report) (ABS 2019) suggests people with disability were also less likely to access the JobKeeper payment compared with people without disability.
Between November 2020 and March 2021, people with disability were about as likely as people without disability to be receiving temporary Coronavirus Supplement (Figure COVID.10):
- In March 2021, 12% of adults with disability reported receiving the Coronavirus Supplement compared with 8.0% of those without disability (ABS 2021c).
Fewer people with disability received the JobKeeper Payment than the Coronavirus Supplement (Figure COVID.10):
- In March 2021, 2.6% of adults with disability reported receiving the JobKeeper Payment compared with 12% of adults with disability receiving the Coronavirus Supplement (ABS 2021c).
Figure COVID.10: Proportion of adults receiving the Coronavirus Supplement and JobKeeper Payment, by disability status and month, 2020–2021
Column chart showing proportions of adults with and without disability receiving the Coronavirus Supplement or JobKeeper Payment between November 2020 and March 2021. The reader can select to display the chart by stimulus payment type. The chart shows that between November 2020 and March 2021, adults with disability were about as likely to be receiving the Coronavirus Supplement (ranging from 9.2% to 12%) as adults without disability (ranging from 5.6% to 8%).
COVID-19 had a relatively modest impact on the living arrangements of people with or without disability:
- Small proportions of people with and without disability reported that they had moved into another household due to COVID-19 since 1 March 2020 (3.6% and 4.2% in December 2020).
- People with and without disability were equally likely to have someone stay temporarily in their household due to COVID-19 since 1 March 2020 (6.9% and 6.8% in December 2020).
- Nine in 10 adults with disability (93%) and without disability (92%) reported their household did not experience changes to rent or mortgage payments between March and December 2020 (ABS 2020).
At the same time, people with disability were more likely than people without disability to report rental stress – difficulty in paying rent or fear of eviction (7.5% of adults with disability compared with 2.6% of those without disability) (ABS 2020).
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2019) Microdata: disability, ageing and carers, Australia, 2018, ABS cat. no. 4430.0.30.002, ABS, AIHW analysis of TableBuilder data, accessed 13 October 2020.
ABS (2020) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, December 2020, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021a) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, January 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021b) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, February 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021c) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, March 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021d) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, May 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
ABS (2021e) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, June 2021, ABS, accessed 26 November 2021.
Australian Government (2020) Economic support to the Coronavirus – Extension of additional income support for individuals (PDF, 736kB), Australian Government, accessed 20 January 2022.
DSS (Department of Social Services) and MIAESR (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic Social Research) (2019) The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, general release 18 (wave 17), doi:10.26193/IYBXHM, ADA Dataverse, AIHW analysis of unit record data, accessed 15 June 2021.
Prime Minister and Treasurer (12 March 2020a). Economic stimulus package [media release], Prime Minister of Australia, accessed 11 May 2022.
Prime Minister and Treasurer (22 March 2020b) Supporting Australian workers and business [media release], Prime Minister of Australia, accessed 11 May 2022.
Prime Minister and Treasurer (30 March 2020c) $130 billion JobKeeper payment to keep Australians in a job [media release], Prime Minister of Australia, accessed 11 May 2022.
Prime Minister, Treasurer, and Minister for Families and Social Services (21 July 2020) JobKeeper payment and income support extended [media release], Prime Minister of Australia, accessed 11 May 2022.
Prime Minister and Minister for Families and Social Services (10 November 2020) JobSeeker Supplement extended to March [media release], Prime Minister of Australia, accessed 11 May 2022.
Vu B, Khanam R, Rahman M and Nghiem S (2020) ‘The costs of disability in Australia: a hybrid panel-data examination’, Health Economics Review 10, 6, doi:10.1186/s13561-020-00264-1.