Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) out on Tuesday has confirmed what many people have already feared: that a direct correlation exists between the changing nature of Australian households amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, guided via a survey that the ABS executed to a sample size of 1500 people nationwide from mid-September, the questionnaire has exposed the changes in families’ habits in work, education and finances as of now versus when the pandemic was declared.
Focusing on the last of these first, a degree of importance must be placed in the context of the recent reductions of the JobSeeker stimulus, with that stimulus alone having dropped from $550 to $250 per fortnight to each recipient within the last fortnight.
While 72 per cent of respondents reported that their household finances remained unchanged and 12 per cent noticed some improvement in them, 16 per cent felt that they had worsened to any extent – one in eight, says the ABS survey.
Meanwhile, with one in ten Australians saying that they were receiving the stimulus, 71 per cent of those responding to the ABS survey said they were using it to pay household bills, and with those partaking in this portion of the survey free to choose as many responses as whatever suits their situations, 67 per cent said they used the extra money to purchase anything qualifying as “household supplies”, including groceries.
Compare that to those on the JobKeeper payment – which has also been reduced over the last fortnight – with one in seven workers (14 per cent) said to be receiving it, according to the ABS, with 60 per cent of respondents replying that their old regular fortnightly pay was higher, and only 44 pe rcent of them actually being paid the difference by their employer.
And as was the case with the survey’s respondents on JobSeeker, where more than one response on the expenses area could be denoted, 77 per cent said they were using the subsidy on paying household bills while 47 per cent were using it to pay the rent or their mortgage.
Those financial statistics, in painting a dire picture about how some people are coping during the pandemic, were compiled before the cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper kicked in.
Now imagine these same people with less money, and trying to meet those basic commitments.
And despite what Josh Frydenberg, the federal treasurer, has said to the contrary, no guarantees exist that JobSeeker won’t be returning to the old dreaded $40-per-day NewStart rate come year’s end, according to Anne Ruston, the government’s social services minister, who remains non-committal on the issue.
The release of the ABS’s survey results coincides with Anti-Poverty Week, and Linda Burney, the ALP’s shadow minister for families and social services, has announced some other very real statistics about those struggling.
“[Over] the past 12 months, more than one in five Australians have experienced food insecurity, and charities and emergency relief providers are being overwhelmed by a surge in demand for their services – one in three are accessing emergency relief for the first time,” Burney said, as she also cited further data from the nation’s largest food relief agency.
Other aspects of the ABS’s survey with regard to work and education also reveal some figures reflecting dramatic shifts.
To which Michelle Marquardt, the ABS’s head of household surveys, said: “The latest data highlight the continued impact that COVID-19 and the related restrictions are having on Australians and their families.”
- Nearly one in three, 31 per cent, of workers who could work from home actually did so at the time of the September survey, versus the pre-pandemic figure of 12 per cent.
- With regard to education matters, just over one in three households, to the tune of 35 per cent, kept their children home due to COVID-19 concerns, with 17 per cent across Australia doing so due to illness and the same percentage nationally due to school closures.
- In Victoria, that figure jumped to 83 per cent, compared to 21 per cent in New South Wales and 19 per cent for the remainder of Australia.
- And 39 per cent cited their work-from-home arrangements as a convenience to look after their children staying home from school, or even being forced to home-school them, with 44 per cent of households sharing the caring responsibilities with another family member.
“This, in turn, impacted people’s work requiring arrangements such as work from home to care for children, changing or reducing hours and/or taking leave from work,” Marquardt added.
And when it comes to employment, in addition to the work-from-home statistics, the frights just keep coming.
- Nationally, 7.3 per cent of respondents – including 15 per cent of all Victorians choosing to respond – reported being employed but working unpaid hours.
- Roughly one in six, 18 per cent, reported that they continued to work because they did not have enough paid sick leave to take two weeks off.
- And in a justification for a bipartisan call for paid pandemic leave from August, 33 per cent of the employed taking part in the survey said they had no access to paid sick leave whatsoever.
And these statistics, when taken into context as a whole array affecting everyday people, possess an alarming impact upon the entire population in times of a global pandemic plus a once-in-a-generation domestic recession.
“All Australians – whether they live below or above the poverty line – will in some form or another feel the struggle of poverty, said Andrew Leigh, the ALP’s shadow treasurer.
And while calling for a permanent increase to JobKeeper by December 31st, Jenny McAllister, the ALP’s shadow assistant minister for families and communities, concurs with Leigh in that all of these statistics painting a picture of the pandemic’s past, present and future possess a domino effect among the sampling of the nation taking part in the ABS’s most recent work.
“When a child doesn’t have a roof over their head, or goes hungry, they cannot do their homework, complete their education and reach their potential,” said McAllister.
“They cannot participate economically or socially in our community.
“Poverty means we are all diminished as a nation,” she added.
Also by William Olson:
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