UNSW Media

UNSW Sydney and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) have released the Work, income and health inequity report, published by their Poverty and Inequality Partnership Project. It was written by researchers from the Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation (CHETRE) and the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) at UNSW.

The Work, income and health inequity report seeks to understand the relationship between socio-economic disadvantage and health in Australia. It explores the health outcome indicators and socio-economic indicators currently available in national health surveys and how these health outcomes differ by socio-economic position.

Lead author of the report, UNSW Medicine & Health’s Professor Evelyne de Leeuw who is Director of CHETRE, said it’s clear that income and wealth help determine health outcomes in Australia.

“Our report shows those in the highest income group are more than twice as likely to be in good health than those in the lowest income group. Without urgent government action, the pandemic is only set to widen this inequality, with people on lower incomes already being left behind in the vaccine rollout. Many live in insecure, over-crowded housing or work in roles that can’t be carried out from home. Health inequities are not a given; they are a consequence of how our societies work,” Prof. de Leeuw said.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the stark inequities that impact our health across the country.

“People on the lowest incomes, and with insecure work and housing, have been at greatest risk throughout the COVID crisis. Now, they are the same people who are at risk of missing out in the vaccine rollout,” Dr Goldie said.

“Our report shows that health inequities are built into our society. It shows that people on low incomes have the highest levels of psychological distress, and we know that the pandemic is increasing that distress. People on lower incomes are also at greater risk of chronic illnesses, which can make them more at risk to the impacts of the pandemic.”

Improving health for all is not only about investing in our health system – it’s also about income support, housing and community services, according to Dr Goldie.

“We must deliver on the basic economic supports and social determinants of health such as adequate and secure incomes and housing, including in lockdowns, so we can improve health for all and get through the COVID crisis.

“As the wealthiest country in the world, it is inexcusable that we have not tackled preventable health inequalities. Far too many people have poorer health outcomes by reason of preventable economic and social disadvantage.”

Key findings:

  • People in the highest income group are twice as likely (60 per cent) to report their health status as good, very good or excellent, compared with only 33 per cent of those in the lowest income group.
  • People on social security payments under 65 were considerably more likely to have asthma (19 per cent) than those whose main income was wages or salary (11 per cent).
  • Half of people on social security payments under 65 report mental health conditions (50 per cent). This is over twice as many as those whose main source of income is wages or salary (18 per cent).
  • Over a third of people on social security payments under 65 report high psychological distress (36 per cent), compared with 10 per cent of people whose main source of income is wages or salary.

Read the Work, income and health equity report.