Research finds economic upturn failing to relieve financial stress

With the government set to end coronavirus support payments at the end of the month, and the economic indicators showing the recovery is well underway, you could be forgiven for thinking Australians were in a better position.

Unfortunately, new research suggests that the reverse is true and that financial stress is growing, even among those aged 65 and over.

The University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Institute’s Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey found that 31 per cent of people reported difficulty paying for essential goods and services (the definition of being financially stressed), which was ahead of the number of people making ends meet.

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Only 15 per cent of people aged 65 or over reported being financially stressed, but that figure had risen sharply from just 11 per cent when the fortnightly survey was last conducted, and was the highest recorded figure for this age demographic when it peaked at 16 per cent in July last year.

The proportion of people experiencing mental distress (feeling depressed and anxious most of the time) is now 24 per cent, a record high since the survey started in April 2020.

Professor Guay Lim, author of the report, said the results suggest that economic recovery is not being felt equally across Australian society.

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“The data from this latest wave (of the survey) suggests that not everyone is seeing the benefits of the economic upturn and this is having a serious impact on Australians’ financial and mental wellbeing,” Prof. Lim said.

“This is an opportunity for policy makers to address the persistent issue of job insecurity and underemployment, particularly among low and middle income earners.”

Satisfaction with government policy is at a record low: just 46 per cent of Australians are satisfied with government policies to support jobs and keep people at work, compared with 62 per cent in April 2020.

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And the proportion dissatisfied with government policy has risen to 28 per cent from around 16 per cent in April 2020.

Those aged 65 and over were slightly more satisfied with the government’s economic policies to address the crisis (59 per cent), but it is well down from their peak satisfaction of 88 per cent in April last year.

Dissatisfaction with government policies among those aged 65 and over also reached a peak in the most recent survey (22 per cent).

South Australians are most satisfied at 55 per cent and have the lowest proportion of dissatisfied at 26 per cent. More Queenslanders are expressing dissatisfaction (30 per cent).

The proportion of Australians willing to be vaccinated has increased by 4 per cent since February. But, about one in three are still hesitant or unwilling to be vaccinated.

The survey also showed that it will be difficult to change the minds of those distrustful of the vaccine, as at most 50 per cent of this group are likely to be convinced by additional information about the vaccine and its effectiveness.

“We found that recommendations from health professionals and the government were not valued as credible in persuading those hesitant about the vaccine. It may be an uphill struggle to allay concerns, improve participation and achieve herd immunity,” Prof. Lim said.

Are you struggling to pay for essential items in the current climate? Will the Coronavirus Supplement cuts hurt you next month? How satisfied are you with government policies to address the financial situation in Australia?

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Written by Ben