4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
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Social issues


Over recent decades there have been significant changes in people's attitudes to family roles, and extensive change in the way families are structured and function. One major change has been in the workforce participation of women, particularly married women, which has affected traditional gender roles. The early post-war model of a male breadwinner, with a wife supporting the family at home, is no longer the norm. Institutional roles have changed in association with this, and government support for childcare has increased.

Trends in the way families are structured have a range of social implications. Trends towards later partnering and child bearing have implications for the age profile of the population. People are having fewer children, which is contributing to reduced population growth. Trends away from registered marriage (particularly among younger age groups) may affect the long term economic status of individuals. Increased sole parenting affects the amount of government support required by parents. Young people living at home longer extends the time that families are involved in supporting their needs.

The changing nature of the family needs to be understood and monitored to determine how well families are coping with new circumstances, and the best means of supporting families within these. There is considerable interest in determining whether families are undergoing more transitions than in the past and whether this instability has implications for wellbeing. The prevalence of divorce and family breakup is of particular interest and concern.


While family transition and reformation can result in an improvement in the emotional or financial lives of the individuals involved, change that is a result of a family becoming dysfunctional is often accompanied by a degradation in both the economic and physical environment of the individual family members, at least in the short-term. Children who experience such transitions may be affected emotionally, or have reduced social capability or poorer educational outcomes. They may go on to form dysfunctional relationships and perpetuate a cycle of social disadvantage. Associated with these issues are issues surrounding the numbers of people who end up living alone, or without close family support. The provision of crisis accommodation for victims of domestic violence or residential care for homeless people and children, are all issues of concern for community service areas.


Issues associated with care and support involve a number of different players: both receivers and providers. Within the family unit, it is important to understand the needs of family members receiving care, and also to address issues relating to those providing care. In terms of the wider community, there is interest in the level and type of support needed by the different family types caring for family members. Three major areas of interest are child care, care of older people, and care for people with a disability.

The use of formal child care can be a necessity for families who need or want to have both parents in the workforce, or for one-parent families. On the other hand, the cost of formal child care may make labour force participation prohibitive for some parents. Government assistance in the child care area is important in relieving the burden of care on some families, whether it be through grants to community based child care centres, or assistance to families in meeting the costs of child care. Governments need information on how much formal and informal child care is being used in order to develop appropriate policy responses and support programs.

The ability of families to care for members with a disability or older members is also of interest, particularly considering the ageing of the population. Governments need to understand the amount and type of care, whether institutional or respite, required for the elderly and those with a disability. Also important is information on the support provided by carers, and the effects of caring on carers and on program expenditure. The support needs of children, people with a disability and older people are changing over time, and the impact of these changes on the working population that has traditionally supported them (see also 'Population groups' section below) is another area of interest.


There are issues surrounding which groups within the community should provide support to families, and the most effective way to share welfare responsibilities between governments, non-government organisations, volunteers, and family and community members. The way in which care responsibility is viewed can determine the focus of social policy. The marketplace is increasing its role in providing care and support facilities for families, such as child care and aged care facilities. There are also an increasing number of voluntary agencies and volunteers supplementing government assistance. Both these trends reflect shifts in welfare responsibility. Statistics about the proportion of welfare services provided by these groups can inform this debate, as can information about how much voluntary support is provided informally and how much through non-government organisations. The proportion of the aged care cost borne by governments, the allocation of funds for family allowances and child care services, and the levels and types of disability support and parenting payments are all associated areas of interest.

There is also a need to understand the dependencies that exist between family members, for instance, between older people and their children, and what transfers of money and assistance occur between households (e.g. between non-resident parents and children).

Finally, social and neighbourhood networks also play a role in providing support and assistance to individuals and families, and there is a growing need to understand the importance of social networks to the health and wellbeing of individuals and the larger community. For example, people may benefit generally where they are confident that they can call on people for support if necessary, even where there has been no occasion to do so. Information is needed to inform policy or programs that will encourage and maintain supportive social networks and make these widely accessible. Emerging interest in social capital and its role in maintaining the health of communities is linked with many of these issues.


Unpaid and voluntary work in the household and in the community makes a substantial contribution to the national economy. This contribution needs to be understood, quantified and recognised. Understanding the type of voluntary work performed, why people undertake voluntary work, and how this can be encouraged is an important aspect of the analysis and promotion of social capital in communities.


As with the nation as a whole, the wellbeing of regional and local area or neighbourhood communities depends on the strength of the economic base on which those communities are founded and on their ability to attract or develop people and other resources in accordance with societal norms. However, as with the wellbeing of individuals and families, there are many other aspects of a community's life that can affect its sustainability and wellbeing. These are associated with the health, education, and housing circumstances of people in those areas, the prevalence of crime, as well as the availability of a wide range of community services. Statistics that help describe the relative wellbeing of different communities can support planning for those that might need greater levels of public policy attention.

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