Study finds lowest satisfaction with government since April and worrying levels of mental distress

Overall satisfaction with government policies to support jobs and keep people at work during the pandemic has fallen to its lowest level since April, according to the latest Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey. Net satisfaction has declined to 37 per cent from 56 per cent when the survey started.

The latest survey also looks at spending across the states. Compared to two months earlier, more people in NSW, VIC and SA report that they are spending less than before the pandemic, while more people in QLD and WA are spending the same or more. NSW has reported the biggest drop in those spending the same or more, 51 per cent compared to 61 per cent in early July.

But in six months’ time, more Victorians expect spending to have recovered, while NSW and SA remain gloomy. These two states also reported the biggest drops in people in living in financial comfort compared to two months earlier.

Led by the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne, the fortnightly survey tracks changes in the economic and social wellbeing of Australians. The 18th wave of the survey was conducted from 31 August – 6 September.

Professor Guay Lim, lead author of the survey report, said the spending findings are sobering, but the overall outlook looks brighter.

“There are indications of an increase in expected spending from early 2021. While 52 per cent of Australians report spending more or the same as before the pandemic, overall 67 per cent expect to be doing so in six months time,” said Professor Lim.

A Research Insight paper based on the survey has found mental distress is correlated with daily COVID-19 case numbers. The number of people reporting feelings of depression or anxiety fell as cases declined after April, but has risen again as cases started rising at the start of the second wave in Victoria. Interestingly, the link between cases and poor mental health is strongest for people who are employed and financially comfortable.

But those who are unemployed or financially distressed report the highest levels of mental distress, no matter the number of cases. Mental distress among these groups declined following the introduction of the Coronavirus Supplement.

Dr Ferdi Botha, co-author of the research, said that the correlation between employed people, mental distress and daily cases could be due to anxieties around contracting COVID-19 at work, or of losing work and stricter lockdowns.

“These findings support government efforts to provide additional funding for digital and telephone support services. High levels of mental distress among unemployed people and those experiencing financial distress also suggest that we also need to focus on addressing underlying social conditions, including further income support,” Dr Botha said.

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