COVID changes here to stay?

For Australia to bounce back from the throes of COVID-19, policy measures put in place during the pandemic should be made permanent, say Australian National University (ANU) experts. 

Many of the 156 government policy measures should stay long term, according to a new report from the ANU which analysed the policy measures and the growing gap in health outcomes between rich and poor in Australia. 

“There is a growing divide in our life expectancy and health experiences in Australia between the lowest and highest socio-economic groups, which will more than likely be widened by COVID-19,” said lead author Professor Sharon Friel.

“This pandemic is touching everyone’s life, but the risk of COVID-19 and its impacts are distributed unequally. The physical and mental health of older people, people living in poverty and marginalised racial and ethnic groups are at elevated risk now and well into the future.

“Australia is going backwards in terms of social inequality and this is a matter of life and death for those most disadvantaged.”

Decisions such as keeping the increases in income support and free childcare should stay on the table for the long term, and the creation of more social housing will help many get a foothold in the sides of the coronavirus hole out of which many must climb.

“Maintaining initiatives such as free childcare long term is a chance for Australia to bounce back better than before,” said Prof. Friel.

“Free childcare not only benefits children from socially disadvantaged households with access to vital cognitive and emotional development opportunities but is a huge benefit to the economy. 

“Free childcare enables more women to return to employment, which makes a major contribution to our GDP.”

Strategies to improve employment opportunities, household income and standard of living will stabilise community health and wellbeing and reduce widening health inequities.

“When COVID-19 hit the government intervened really quickly to provide additional money for people on income support schemes,” said Prof. Friel. 

“These income supplements create greater social cohesion, wellbeing and long-term health outcomes. 

“If the government can do it during a pandemic then they should be able to do it going forward.”

Researchers are concerned the government’s plans to bounce back from COVID don’t include public housing.

According to the ANU’s The Australian COVID-19 policy responses: Good for health equity or a missed opportunity? report: “None of the housing-related policies that were introduced due to COVID-19 address the medium and long term housing precariousness prevalent in Australia”. 

“This pandemic laid bare some of the deepest inequalities in our society, not least the need for secure housing. Unfortunately, we have not seen any policy responses addressing the housing crisis beyond short-term triage,” said Prof. Friel.

“The tower blocks in Melbourne are just one example of why we need more affordable and secure social housing.

“If we do not hold on to the progress we have made with income support and free childcare policies, and do much more to fix the housing crisis, social and health inequalities will continue to widen in Australia.”

What do you think should be a focus for the government’s plan to help us bounce back from COVID-19?

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