Financial stress and mental distress growing despite signs of economic upturn; satisfaction with government policy at all time low

Financial and mental stress is growing despite economic growth

Australians are experiencing higher levels of financial stress and mental distress, which has risen to its highest level since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic despite Australia being on the road to economic recovery.

Australians have also become increasingly dissatisfied with government policy, the Melbourne Institute’s Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey has revealed.

Although GDP has rebounded and is showing strong growth, the number of people reporting financial stress (difficulty paying for essential goods and services) has risen to 31 per cent – now exceeding the number of people making ends meet, at 26 per cent.

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.

Self-employed Australians report the highest levels of financial stress and mental distress. Fifty per cent say they are financially stressed and 15 per cent are only making ends meet. Almost half  – 47 per cent – are mentally distressed. Those on fixed term (73 per cent) and casual (77 per cent) contracts are more vulnerable to adverse income shocks.

The fortnightly survey from Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research tracks changes in the economic and social wellbeing of Australians. The 28th wave of the survey was conducted from 1 to 6 March.

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

“The data from this latest wave suggest that not everyone is seeing the benefits of the economic upturn and this is having a serious impact on Australians’ financial and mental wellbeing,” Professor 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.

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

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).

Those employed on a continuing ongoing basis are the least likely to be dissatisfied with government policy. While people on fixed term contracts are most likely to be dissatisfied.

The proportion of Australians willing to be vaccinated has increased by four 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,” Professor Lim said.