Social issues are matters of concern to governments and the community. They reflect aspects of society, its people and institutions that people want to, and can, do something about. They may be broadly or narrowly focused and include, for example, the cost of the health system; poverty and homelessness; imprisonment rates of Indigenous youth; changing workplace relations; housing needs of low income families; crime rates; the strength of family and community relationships; and the extent to which people participate in artistic or sporting activity. There are some basic questions, shown in the table below, that will always be of interest to the community and governments and can assist in identifying the key social issues for an area.
|LEVELS AND TRENDS|
What is the current status of wellbeing in an area (e.g. current unemployment rate), and how is it changing over time (e.g. unemployment trends)? Are things getting better or worse?
How is wellbeing in that area distributed through the population and between sub-groups in the population? Are particular groups disadvantaged?
What is the effectiveness and efficiency of the systems and infrastructures that administer services in that area? For example, how well does government policy translate into improved wellbeing in that area?
What factors affect wellbeing in that area? What causes levels of wellbeing to be high or low, and what causes them to change over time?
Each social issue has a set of circumstances that surround and define it. For instance, a social issue may be largely defined by economic conditions. The social issue of the declining population in some smaller inland towns has at its heart the loss of industries, such as mining, grain and sheep growing, which has lead to a lack of employment opportunities, reduction in banking and medical services, and the migration of young people to the coastal cities. The social issue of family dissolution and reformation has been influenced by many factors, including changing gender roles and expectations, changes to divorce laws and the availability of economic support for lone parents. A map of the circumstances surrounding this issue therefore needs to encompass factors affecting broad social change, and the history of changes to the legal system and government legislation.
The terrain surrounding social issues may also be defined by the characteristics of the key players involved. The issue of childcare can be understood from different perspectives depending on whether it is parents and extended family who are the key players (in which case the issue revolves around the daily schedule of the players); parents, the government and child care services (in which case the issue revolves around funds, costs, and type and quality of service); or parents and children (in which case family relationships are central).
The key social issues for each area of concern need to be identified, as does the circumstantial terrain associated with each issue. If these are used as a focus when collections, output and analysis are being developed, the resulting statistics will be more relevant to information needs.