Australia ranks in the bottom third of the OECD for work-life balance and is performing poorly on Indigenous disadvantage, with increasing numbers of people also accessing homelessness services due to family violence, and more children in foster care, according to a major new report on the nation’s welfare.
Australia’s Welfare 2017 was unveiled by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare on Thursday, showing progress across a range of indicators as the nation marks Anti-Poverty Week.
The biennial report card showed Australia was 27th out of 35 OECD countries for work-life balance, with 20% of men and 7% of women reporting working more than 50 hours per week, said AIHW Director Barry Sandison.
Home ownership was in marked decline, particularly for young people — now at 45% from 51% 10 years ago for those aged 25-34 and 62% for those aged 35-44, from 68% a decade earlier. Overall, Australia is in the lowest quartile of OECD countries when it comes to home ownership, said Sandison.
“The financial impact of increased house prices and higher education costs are just some of the factors affecting the ability of younger generations to save for a deposit,” he said.
Spending on safety nets had increased to $157 billion, comprising 9.5% of GDP, compared with $117 billion a decade ago, and the welfare workforce (including childcare, aged care and disability support workers) had expanded 84% — four times the rate of the total Australia workforce over that period.
The number of people accessing homelessness services had increased by a third over the past five years, with 38% experiencing family violence. During this period, the number of children in foster and other out-of-home care had increased 17%.
Deep and persisting disadvantage persisted for some 4.4% of Australians, including key groups as detailed in the graphic below.
The report found widespread socioeconomic disadvantage and health inequality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with contributors including discrimination, racism, violence, drug and alcohol use and high psychological distress. This fed into a vicious cycle impacting employment, income, living conditions and opportunities, the AIHW said.
Some of the key indicators highlighted in the report include:
- Indigenous children are twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable, though the gap is narrowing with the rate dropping from 47% in 2009 to 42% in 2015
- NAPLAN scores on literacy and numeracy are consistently lower for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and these decline with increasing remoteness
- Indigenous children are over-represented in child protection – they are seven times more likely to come to the attention of these services and 10 times more likely to be in out of home care
- Indigenous people comprise 27% of the nation’s total prison population, and are incarcerated at a rate 13 times that of the general populace. 59% of the youth detention population and 48% of those under youth justice supervision are Indigenous, despite comprising just 6% of all 10-17 year olds
- Indigenous people are more likely to be unemployed and to earn less than other Australian households, with higher rates of government pension or allowance as their main source of income, though the gap is narrowing: 37% are in the lowest quintile for income compared with 49% in 2008-09
- Home ownership rates are half that of the broader population, rental rates are twice as high, overcrowding is three times higher and occupancy of public housing is seven times higher. This disadvantage deepens with increasing remoteness
- Community functioning and culture boost wellbeing and resilience, particularly in remote and very remote areas, where 55% spoke a local language, 79% identified with a people or nation, 82% were involved in cultural or ceremonial events, and were less likely to use drugs other than tobacco or alcohol (21%) or be homeless (18%)
Are we happy?
Australia compared “exceptionally well” to other countries on the United Nations Human Development Index — an aggregate measure of life expectancy, education and standard of living — ranking second after Norway.
Though less outstanding on subjective measures of happiness, the report said we still fared well, coming in at 9th globally (again, after Norway), in the 2017 World Happiness Report.
Compared with OECD countries, we rated in the top third for the majority of measures, but slipped into the middle third for job security, wealth, employment, educational attainment, homicide rate and substandard dwellings.
We rate poorly on feeling safe walking home at night, working long hours and that elusive work-life balance — time devoted to personal care and leisure.