Study shows satisfaction with government decreasing, healthcare use rising

Australians’ satisfaction with government policies to support jobs and keep people at work during the COVID-19 pandemic is trending down, the latest Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey shows.

Net satisfaction fell from 52 per cent in mid-April to just 38 per cent in mid-August.

Led by the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne, the fornightly survey tracks changes in the economic and social wellbeing of Australians. The 17th wave of the survey was conducted from 16-20 August.

The fall in government satisfaction was recorded across all States, but the largest change, over the 5-month long period of restrictions was recorded in Victoria, with a drop of 23 percentage points, possibly reflecting concerns about the handling of quarantines and cases in aged care facilities.

‘’But even as roadmaps to opening the economy are being considered, less than 10% of Australians expect the effect of the pandemic to be over in the next 3 months. There is growing realisation that the timing depends on how well we keep the number of new COVID-19 cases low and that includes looking at mandatory requirements like wearing masks in public places, limiting the size of gatherings as well as healthcare’’ says Melbourne Institute’s Professor Guay Lim.

Meanwhile, the survey showed that the majority of Australians are vulnerable to financial difficulties in the event of unexpected negative income and/or spending shocks and there are still no clear signs of economic recovery. Furthermore, the proportion experiencing mental distress (i.e. feeling anxious or depressed most to all the time) is creeping up along with the realisation that the pandemic may not be over anytime soon.

A Research Insight paper based on the survey highlights how COVID-19 has changed the way Australians use healthcare.

Positively, overall use of healthcare increased from 39 per cent in June to 44 per cent in August, but the pandemic is continuing to keep young people and those in financial and mental distress away from the doctor.

The overall increase in the use of healthcare since June is largely driven by increased use by women, especially those over 65. The proportion of women who consulted a health professional has continued to increase between June and August across all age groups, but remains relatively low for men.

“We’ve found that people who were financially stressed were much more likely to forgo needed health care than those who are financially comfortable or making ends meet and this disparity is persisting over time,” says author of the research, Professor Yuting Zhang.

“Even though telehealth is being largely bulk-billed, it is possible that these people are fearful that being sick and off work may reduce their chances of keeping their job.”

The research also reveals that people with high mental distress were six times more likely than those with low mental distress to choose not to consult a health professional when needed.

“While it’s encouraging to see women over 65 returning to the doctor, it’s concerning to see those experiencing financial stress and mental distress avoid needed healthcare at quite high rates, and it does not seem to be improving over time,” Professor Zhang says.

“This will have a long-lasting cumulative impact on people and on the health system if these trends persist, widening inequalities in income and health in Australia. People will present with more serious conditions that will increase costs in the longer term.”

Interact with the results of the Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey and explore the differences based on gender and age on our tracker page.