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COVID and household impact – the worst fears, confirmed

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.

Linda Burney (Photo courtesy of abc.net.au)

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:

Budget leaves arts industry out in the cold

Budget doomed without quick and fair, equal action — ACTU’s O’Neil

Australian screen content laws to be dealt a blow in new budget

Reverse JobKeeper cuts and protect working people, say unions


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  1. Andrew Smith

    Thinking of any positives with present Federal Govt., they may have to implement at least more Keynesian type policies including more permanent support for many households clinging onto or aspiring to middle class imagery; ‘battlers’, ‘oldies’, ‘tradies’, small business, young people et al.

    Many Lib (and Labor) voters one knows (in SE Oz) are quite happy with borrowing for investment in social housing etc.; nostalgic for the Vic. Hamer govt. of the ’70s which was literally liberal and quite ‘green’.

  2. New England Cocky

    Geez WO, your header pic of the Woman who would be Australia’s Thatcher is scary enough, but your concerns about the disaster following a too soon have it fade into insignificance.

    But Friedeggburger is only joshing when he implies that Newstart starvation allowances and conditions will return while presently unemployed workers search for jobs that government policies since 2013 have destroyed because he will have to pay for all the gratis largess thrown at corporations that fund the Liarbral Nazional$ parties somehow, and of course Liarbral ideology dictates that the workers pay for the bosses to play … tax free where possible.

  3. TuffGuy

    You know I am more than happy to read about the continued incompetence of any and all of the current federal government. But seriously, do we really need to include a picture of that toxic scrag with every article about “it”???

  4. Yanta

    I would have loved to participated in this survey. Like all others pensioners, vets and the disabled never seem to represented in the data. I am on a disability pension and had a small hobby income to make ends meet with the bottom line pre-pandemic of having about $2 per day left over.

    The impact to this household as a single parent with 4 children of adult age living at home, 3 of which are currently out of work and the other on reduced hours has drastically reduced the overall household income.

    The latest budget did nothing for people like me, and indeed, the October pension increase never eventuated. I did see they said they were going to freeze, and potentially reduce pensions to push us into the streets, but then someone else said they would reverse that decision. Well that doesn’t seem to have happened.

    So, whilst work and education are not factors here, the pandemic has resulted in all health, property, asset and car insurances being cancelled, as well as the sale of many of our personal assets just to cover rent and food. We have a landlord and agent from hell who refuse to negotiate, and because I sold my cell phone to cover rent, VCAT wouldn’t hear the matter.

    The effects of this are going to take years, if not decades to recover from. And I wonder if the extent to which we have been “inconvenienced” was absolutely necessary in every regard. Like, were there other options and better ways of doing things?

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