Financial stress easing but many not seeking necessary healthcare

Fewer Australians are reporting financial stress as coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions are easing, according to the latest survey by the Melbourne Institute Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne.

Of those respondents who reported being financially or mentally stressed, most said they have not sought medical advice.

The Taking the Pulse of the Nation weekly survey tracks changes in the economic and social wellbeing of Australians living through the effects of the pandemic. The ninth round of the survey was conducted from 1-6 June.

The proportion of Australians who reported being financially stressed fell from 26 per cent during most of May to 18 per cent last week. Employees in many sectors reported being more able to pay for essential goods and services.

Decreases in levels of reported financial stress of around 20 per cent were noted for workers in retail trade (from 35 per cent to 15 per cent) and in accommodation, food and recreation services (from 38 per cent to 19 per cent), reflecting the easing of restrictions.

People employed in information, media and telecommunications reported an increase in financial stress, from 31 per cent at the end of May to 39 per cent last week.

A new question in the survey last week asked whether respondents had seen a health professional in the past 30 days. The majority indicated they either did not need to see a professional or saw one when needed. Fourteen per cent of respondents said they needed to see a professional but chose not to seek a consultation.

Of the respondents reporting stress, 42 per cent with mental distress and 32 per cent with financial stress chose to forgo seeing a health professional.

In a Research Insight also published this week, Melbourne Institute researcher Professor Yuting Zhang said people with health needs should be encouraged to consult health professionals. “Forgoing services today will result in more expensive downstream costs in the future,” said Professor Zhang.

Professor Zhang said financial stress appears to be one of the main reasons why Australians are avoiding necessary healthcare during the pandemic.

“The problem of avoiding healthcare could persist for a much longer period due to the predicted long-term economic impact of the pandemic. It would help to have a more targeted policy to reduce the costs of essential and effective healthcare for those who have trouble paying,” Professor Zhang said.

Interact with the results of the Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey on our tracker page.

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*The weekly survey by the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne contains responses from 1,200 people aged 18 years and over, with the sample stratified by gender, age and location to represent the Australian population.