Coronavirus: Australia’s pockets of chronic disadvantaged most vulnerable to consequences of pandemic

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Article by Malcolm Farr, as published at

They are potentially among the most vulnerable to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic — the thousands of Australians already captive to persistent disadvantage.

They have been short-changed on health care, education, economic capacity and social cohesion, according to a ground-breaking national survey released today.

The survey, commissioned by Catholic Social Services Australia, identifies significant pockets of chronic disadvantaged which often are overlooked because of neighbouring areas of prosperity.

And there is a stark difference in the magnitude of disadvantage among the 151 federal electorates.

Of the 20 most disadvantages seats, 10 are held by the Nationals/LNP, six by Labor, three by the Liberals, and one by an independent.

Of the 20 federal electorates least affected by disadvantage, 16 are held by Liberals, three by Labor, and one by an independent.

The survey, entitled Mapping the Potential, was based on the practical experience of welfare agencies and fresh data. It diverged from most studies of inequality which focus on economic capacity.

“Countless studies have been carried out that look at the important issue of economic disadvantage, but that only tells part of the story,” said CSSA chief executive officer Ursula Stephens.

“Mapping the Potential goes further, investigating economic realities alongside educational, health and social advantage or disadvantage. What we found is that persistent disadvantage is present in almost all federal electorates.”

The research set an index of disadvantage based on an average level of 1000 points in the four categories, and overall.

The higher the number, the lower the proportion of relatively disadvantaged people. The figures don’t represent a quantity of disadvantage but are indicators.

And the index has been applied to all 151 seats in the House of Representatives.

Trent Zimmerman and Keith Pitt are Government MPs but represent two distinct slices of Australian life, the CSSA project found.

Mr Pitt, the Minister for Resources, is the LNP member for the Queensland regional seat of Hinkler, which the research says suffers the most disadvantage of any electorate in the country, particularly when it came to healthy, education and economic viability.

Hinkler had an overall index rating of 834, with just 837 for health care and 886 for education.

Mr Zimmerman is the Liberal member for North Sydney, which the CSSA study found to be the least disadvantaged electorate in the country.

North Sydney had an overall rating of 1180. The rating on health services in the electorate was 1094, and for education 1128.

Other strongly disadvantaged areas included Spence in north Adelaide (ALP), Braddon in west Tasmania (Liberal), Cowper in northern NSW and Lyne on the NSW central coast (both Nationals).

Electorates with the lowest proportion of entrenched disadvantage were Mr Zimmerman’s Sydney neighbours in Wentworth, Bradfield and Warringah, and Kooyong in Melbourne. All but Warringah are held by the Liberals.

However, prosperity often does not benefit everyone in an electorate even when the disadvantage rating is low.
“Even in what we consider to be the most affluent of electorates, we find people whose daily life is one of dealing with persistent disadvantage,” said Dr Stephens.

“Averages – in the community, in government policy, in our schools and elsewhere – can be used to paper over the realities and allow governments and civil society to misunderstand the support that communities need. That misunderstanding can turn disadvantage into persistent disadvantage.”

The Labor seat of Rankin in Brisbane has an overall rating of 945 but in some sections of the electorate the rating is as low as 485 while is other areas the rating hits 1082, according to a CSSA breakdown.

In the Brisbane LNP seat of Ryan the overall level is a hefty 1113, but it has suburbs rating as high as 1184, and areas as low as 947.

The South Australian seat of Mayo has an overall rating of 1004, but includes areas as high as 1114, and as low as 892.

The electorate with the most economic disadvantage was the Labor seat of Fowler to Sydney’s west. The least economically disadvantaged was Wentworth in Sydney’s east.

The health rating of a community took into account 15 factors which included the percentage of the population who were disabled, then level mod aged care, the average expenditure on alcohol and tobacco, the percentage with type 2 diabetes, and those with mental health problems.

The economic rating took into account 12 elements including the percentage of the workforce in low-skilled jobs, households, families and individuals on low incomes, and the unemployment rate and the numbers of families with unemployed payments.

The level of educational disadvantage measured the proportion of the adult population with a high school matriculation busty concentrated one he presence f children with a range of problems in health, language, communication, social development and emotional issues.

The measure of social disadvantage rates six community features including the number of single parent households, and homes without an internet connection.

The research was able to evaluate individual suburbs but a decision was made to not identify those individual outcomes to avoid stereotyping the residents.


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