Australia’s health by socio-economic status

However you describe it, being poor, disadvantaged, or living in a low socioeconomic area is more likely to make you more susceptible to preventable chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.

Australia’s Health Tracker by Socioeconomic Status 2021 reports on the health status of Australians based on their socioeconomic standard which the study has found has a major impact on people’s health. Families and individuals with limited resources not only have more chronic disease, they are at greater risk of dying prematurely as a result of chronic health conditions. People living with mental ill-health are less likely to participate in employment, which in itself, is associated with an improvement in general mental health levels.

The ten million people living in the 40% of communities with lower and lowest socioeconomic status have much higher rates of preventable cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory diseases than others in the population. These communities also have the highest rates of suicide throughout the nation.

Risk factors that are likely to contribute to this higher rate of illness and premature death include:
• Physical inactivity
• Lifetime alcohol consumption
• Daily tobacco use
• Unemployment as a result of mental health issues.

These health disparities within the Australian population are persistent despite considerable policy reform and efforts to improve services in recent decades. The targets for a healthier Australia were developed by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration, a national network of leading health experts and organisations. The Collaboration has worked with the support of the Mitchell Institute, Victoria University since 2014 to influence public and policy awareness and action to reduce high rates of preventable chronic disease in the Australian population.

The report sets health targets for medical conditions such as:
Obesity – Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma, back pain and some cancers.
High cholesterol – High levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol are a risk factor for heart disease. National data from 2011-12 is the most recent available data and indicated that close to one-third of all socioeconomic groups were estimated to have high cholesterol levels.
High blood pressure – Rates of reported high blood pressure are relatively consistent across socioeconomic groups. High blood pressure is often caused by poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption. It is a risk factor for chronic conditions including stroke, heart diseases, and chronic kidney disease
Diabetes – Hospitalisations and deaths related to diabetes are, respectively, 2 and 2.3 times as high in the lowest socioeconomic communities compared to the highest.

Australia’s Health Tracker by Socioeconomic Status 2021 report, The Mitchell Institute at Victoria University. Australia’s Health Tracker by Socioeconomic Status 2021 report

COVID-19 impacts during 2020

Grandparents reported feeling disconnected and isolated from their children and grandchildren during the COVID restrictions imposed during 2020.

In two surveys conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies during each half of 2020, three out of 10 grandparents said that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, they provided childcare to their grandchildren at least weekly. Of those grandparents, 14% of respondents with grandchildren aged under 13 years provided child care daily or several times a week, another 16% provided child care about once a week and around half provided care at least once per month.

Grandparent care and care for grandparents were most impacted during the pandemic, with respondents reporting that for many families, grandparents did not provide the usual care to their grandchildren for some months during the pandemic. Care for grandchildren ceased because of restrictions imposed on visiting family members or because parents increased their work from home.

Many grandparents reported feeling disconnected from their family and missing out on family traditions during the lockdown period. While some grandparents were able to access technological solutions to connect with family, others found the technology frustrating.

There were 7,306 respondents in the first survey of whom 6,435 completed all survey questions. In the second survey, 4,866 participants responded, of which 3,627 completed all survey questions. Over 80% were female respondents, tertiary-educated, ranging in age from over 18 years to 60+ years who lived either in a capital city, a major regional city or regional area.

Impacts on caring for others

In addition to generalised fears as to how the virus might affect the physical and mental health of family members, the pandemic forced changes to the availability of in-home support services. Caring hours for family members increased significantly over the year for 70% of respondents, nearly half of the respondents saying they spent over 30 hours per week in relation to child care and home schooling, while about 20% of respondents reported spending over 60 hours per week on caring activities which included caring for a parent or a partner.

Respondents also referred to giving assistance to non-household members which could include friends or work colleagues. This could include giving emotional assistance, or providing help with shopping, transport, house or garden maintenance and sometimes financial help.

Community volunteering was also impacted by the pandemic during 2020 in that in many volunteer-reliant charities, older volunteers were restricted in the types of volunteer work they could do and, at the same time, demand for services from charities increased due to the impact of COVID on employment and income.

Community volunteers were more likely to be older people. Survey results showed that over a quarter (27%) of respondents or their partners had engaged in some form of voluntary work in the past year, including half of those aged 70-79, 36% of those living alone, and 40% of those living in remote areas.

Of those who volunteered at some time during 2020, almost two in three (62%) continued to volunteer throughout the year, 20% volunteered before COVID but had yet to return to volunteering, 6% started volunteering after COVID, 4% stopped volunteering during COVID but have returned to volunteering, and 4% volunteered only during COVID. (The remaining 5% is other combinations.)

Report no. 1: Connection to family, friends and community, Families in Australia Survey, May 2021, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/connection-family-friends-community

Poetry inspired by Flourish

A collaboration of sewing, photography and poetry.

Winner, Flying Arts Alliance, Qld, 2020ce
Flourish, cyanotype photograms on cotton with thread.
104cm x104cm (framed with Perspex)
Leanne Vincent, 2020.
A Lineage of Ecologies

Each sea blue petal, gathered
in honour of Detritus, was slow
stitch’d into this teeming quilt,
this bowerbird mandala,
this cathedral rose window
in the navy night,
this rock pool in kaleidoscope.
And now the Seaweeds, from
Photographs of British Algae
to whom Flourish is indebted,
wave from their 19th century pages
in a lineage of ecologies.

-Sally Denshire Continue reading “Poetry inspired by Flourish”

Super in the time of pandemic

Is our retirement system good enough? Superannuation should enable all people to have an adequate standard of living when retired, according to the Retirement Income Review into the Australian retirement system. The system should not just provide a means for wealthy people to become wealthier, with the help of generous tax concessions.

The Review found that two groups have high levels of financial stress compared to people below age 65: those renting in retirement and those who are involuntarily retired before age pension eligibility age. Retirees who rent in the private rental market are likely to live in poverty and those early retirees living on JobSeeker payments are the worst affected. Even with the age pension and additional rental assistance, these retirees experienced higher levels of financial stress and poverty than the rest of the population.

Following 426 submissions and meetings with 100 stakeholders, Treasury has released the Review’s Final Report which makes findings on how the superannuation system interacts with the age pension, the aged care system and the tax concessions that benefit high wealth individuals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly disruptive to the livelihoods of individuals and to businesses on a global scale. Less obviously, most people’s retirement savings also have decreased significantly over the past year. Retirees who rely on their super to top up age pension payments remain concerned that their super investments have been affected by market volatility, leading them to worry that their loss in savings will have long-term effects.

Retirement savings and owning your own home are the most important ways to ensure that people have a buffer in retirement. High rates of home ownership in Australia reduces housing costs in retirement and boosts living standards. Additionally, their home is an asset that they can sell to provide a deposit for aged care or for additional funds if necessary.

While the age pension helps to offset inequities in retirement, its “bare bones” level of income does not provide enough to provide for those without other income. In particular, it does little to improve the situation of disadvantaged groups such as women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those with disabilities who have not been able to accumulate sufficient retirement savings in their working life.

One of Treasury’s first observations was that the current retirement system is complex and poorly understood by many people, both before and during retirement. Then more complications arise when it interacts with the aged care and tax system.

The Report suggested some changes to the retirement system to improve its fairness such as:
• removing the $450 per month income threshold before the superannuation guarantee can be paid;
• paying superannuation while on employer paid parental leave, and
• ensuring that all employees are paid the benefits to which they are entitled.

Australian superannuation funds hold $2.9 trillion of assets invested in local and overseas financial markets. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns of businesses and associated job losses, superannuation proved a welcome financial resource for many who had lost their employment. Over 4 million applicants were able to access their super under the Early Release scheme to supplement their wages or JobSeeker allowances. In total $37.4 billion was paid out in the June 2020 quarter to applicants, a 77.7% increase from the March 2020 quarter.

Many commentators were concerned that low to middle income earners who accessed their super early would be severely disadvantaged in being able to accumulate sufficient funds for their retirement as well as making them more likely to be reliant on the age pension. The debate about allowing people to access their super to fund a deposit for a house has not been resolved with arguments on both sides. In my opinion, too many people have drawn on their super in ways that provided only a temporary benefit now, while suffering a substantial long-term loss to their level of super when they retire.

I look forward to the government’s response – will they improve the system for the most disadvantaged people in the retirement system? Much more needs to be done.

Treasury, 20/11/20, Retirement Income Review – Final Report, https://treasury.gov.au/publication/p2020-100554

Author talk at Dennis Johnson Library Stanhope Gardens

Come along to join in the retirement conversation on

Join Alice and have a retirement conversation.
Saturday, 24 October 2020 at 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm.
At the Dennis Johnson Library, Cnr Stanhope Parkway & Sentry Drive, Stanhope Gardens, NSW 2768

Women experience retirement differently to men. Women generally live longer, have less money and volunteer more than their male counterparts. A practicing lawyer for over 30 years, Alice Mantel encourages making better decisions, giving advice on topics such as:

Inspiring women to make the most of their retirement opportunities, Every Woman’s Guide to Retirement encourages an active, connected lifestyle, staying healthy, lifelong learning, de-cluttering, and even online dating to make the most of this time.

Life during Covid-19 – early findings

After conducting a survey of over 7,000 respondents, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has released its early findings as to how people felt their lives had been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

Given that about 80% of the respondents were female with a higher educational level than the general population, it may not be completely representative but some significant trends do emerge.

Chief findings were:
 Women continued to do most of the housework as they did before the pandemic.
 The mother continued to do most of the childcare/schooling as they did before the pandemic.
 Almost half (43%) of respondents reported they or their partner had lost employment, reduced hours or wages. However 65% reported no real
change to their personal income.
 Grandparents were not able to support the families or provide childcare as before.
 Parent-only care rose from 30% before COVID-19 to 64% of families during the restrictions.
 The proportion of people always working from home rose from 7% to 60% during the restrictions.
 Young adults were disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn, being almost four times (15% vs 4%) more likely to ask for help from
government or NGOs.

Families in Australia Survey: Life during COVID-19, Report no. 1: Early findings, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/families-australia-survey-life-during-covid-19

Telehealth use increases during pandemic

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a rapid take up of telehealth. Telehealth can according be described as the delivery of any health service, remotely, usually over the phone or via video call. A service could include an online counselling session, a phone call with a general practitioner, or a video chat with a physiotherapist or allied health professional.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in six adults aged 18 years and over (17%) used a telehealth service during early-April to early-May 2020, when the pandemic restrictions on social distancing were at their strictest.

Research by the Global Centre for Modern Ageing found that older Australians liked telehealth for its convenience, reduced travel and ability to be conducted at home. Improvements they suggested include making telehealth more available, improving tech, and providing more information around the end-to-end process, including scripts, follow-ups and referrals.

Loneliness was the most widely reported source of personal stress for Australians during April, according to the third ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey.

“Around one in five people (19 per cent) also reported that they were experiencing difficulties maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which was more of a problem for those aged 18 to 64 years (22 per cent) than those aged 65 years and over (9 per cent),” added Ms Marquardt, ABS Program Manager for Household Surveys.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth was most commonly used to make it easier for people in remote communities to access expert healthcare. However since the coronavirus pandemic, government policy has encouraged telehealth availability with the added benefit that the service can be bulk-billed.

Global Centre for Modern Ageing research, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5ae17ed32971146319f879ca/t/5eeebc167250ac3a2ce07f1d/1592704027892/Telehealth+Here+to+Stay+GCMA+research+report.pdf

Isolate and thrive

By Alice Mantel

In this uncertain period, we may have increased the physical distance between each other but we can still be socially connected. It might just require more motivation (and self-discipline to use the words of one very important person).

Here are my suggestions about how to make the most of this enforced retreat from the busy world:

Daily rituals – find a special way to welcome the morning, or the approaching night, perhaps just by paying attention in silent stillness.

Enjoy the solitude – doing things that you like, You could read a book (including downloading a digital version from your library), listen to podcasts, play loud music, take up an instrument you have ignored for a while, flip through photo albums or dance while no one is watching. You could even write your memoirs.

Connect with others – call friends and contacts, by phone or with video calls, or celebrate your special days by hosting an online party. Do a jigsaw puzzle with a family member. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you don’t feel in control of your mental stress or anxiety.

Share – your recipes, your patterns, your ideas – through a curated social media diet or a blog your own thoughts. Use digital media to stay informed.

Create something new – take up painting, sewing, pottery making, knitting again. Find a live streamed class to join. Cook new meals or cakes that you have always wanted to try.

Develop your sense of purpose – reach out and support your neighbours, your school, or disadvantaged groups by volunteering, donating money or following their media posts.

Revise and re-evaluate the obvious – what is in your cupboards, your bookshelves, your kitchen pantry, or your bottom drawers?

Stay active – participate in online classes like yoga or dance classes, walk/run in the fresh air in local parks, breathe deeply on your balcony, set up a home gym using items found around your home, or take up golf or tennis.

Care for yourself – catch up on some sleep, rationalise your old clothes, give yourself an organic facial, throw out old makeup, dress to impress yourself.

Go gardening – pruning, weeding, planting, reorganising your pot plants, buying more plants, mulch and fertilise.

Avoid– non-essential online shopping, too much couch time watching streamed movie marathons, and drinking more alcohol to pass the time.