Latest release

Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey

Insights into the prevalence and nature of impacts from COVID-19 on households in Australia

Reference period
September 2020

Key statistics

  • In the last four weeks 31% of people with a job worked from home most days compared with 12% before March.
  • One in six people with a job (18%) did not have enough paid sick leave to take two weeks off.
  • A further one in three people with a job (33%) did not have access to paid sick leave.

About this issue

This publication presents results from the monthly Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, a longitudinal survey which collects information from around 1,500 people. The September 2020 survey was run between 11 September and 21 September 2020 via online forms and telephone interviews.

The September 2020 survey collected information on:

  • changes in the frequency of activities
  • health precautions taken due to COVID-19
  • sources of health information and advice on COVID-19
  • household finances and actions taken to relieve financial stress
  • expected changes in spending patterns
  • receipt and use of stimulus payments
  • school and child care arrangements
  • job status (including sick leave availability and search for employment).

The scope of the survey was persons aged 18 years and over in private dwellings across Australia (excluding very remote areas).

About this collection

This survey is designed to provide a quick snapshot of the changing social and economic situation for Australian households with particular focus on how they are faring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each cycle will collect information on different topics.

From August 2020, the survey introduced a new panel of respondents but kept a similar design to the series of eight fortnightly surveys conducted between 1 April to 10 July 2020. In August 2020, there were an additional two detailed releases of results collected as part of the Multipurpose Household Survey (MPHS) during May and June 2020. The results for all past publications can be found by selecting 'View all releases' in the header of this publication.

Some topics have been repeated in both the fortnightly and monthly surveys. Where relevant, comparisons are made based on the weighted representative data for both surveys.

Due to the small sample size and associated high sample errors for this survey, it is not possible to meaningfully compare responses across all states and territories. Where possible, analysis has been conducted comparing estimates for New South Wales, Victoria and the rest of Australia.

Proportions marked with an asterisk (*) have a Margin of Error (MoE) >10 percentage points which should be considered when using this information. For more information about MoEs refer to the publication Methodology.

COVID-19 pandemic progress and interventions

From 11 September to 21 September, when this survey was conducted, around 30 new cases of COVID-19 were identified daily in Victoria and around six new cases daily in New South Wales. A number of cases in both Victoria and New South Wales were believed to be spread through community transmission (including known and unknown local contacts). Other states and territories were continuing to have lower numbers of COVID-19 cases (with no higher than three cases but often days with no new cases).

Since the beginning of the pandemic, initiatives in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and support the economy included:

  • ongoing international travel restrictions 
  • border control measures for some states and territories
  • two economic stimulus packages (12 March and 22 March)
  • a safety net package of $1.1 billion to expand mental health and Telehealth services, increase domestic violence services and provide more emergency food relief (29 March)
  • stimulus payments including:
    • a Coronavirus Supplement paid fortnightly from 27 April to eligible income support recipients along with their usual payments (to be reduced late September and paid until the end of December)
    • a JobKeeper Payment passed in legislation on 15 April and paid to employers to keep more Australians in jobs and support businesses affected by the COVID-19 restrictions (extended until March 2021)
  • various restrictions, including shutting down non-essential services, limits on gatherings and social distancing rules from March
  • a guided easing of these restrictions in many states and territories using the National Cabinet agreed three step framework introduced in early May.

At the time of the survey, many states and territories were in the final stage of easing restrictions but progress had slowed in some areas due to the situation in Victoria. A second wave of COVID-19 emerged in Victoria from mid-June 2020 leading to stronger restrictions within the state from August, including:

  • mandatory face coverings in public
  • ‘stay at home’ restrictions including curfews and a small number of provisions to leave home for exercise, grocery shopping, and essential work, medical care and caregiving
  • a return to remote learning for schools with onsite access to schools and child care restricted to essential workers with permits
  • closing onsite operation of retail, administration and some manufacturing businesses for 6 weeks (with the exception of essential businesses)
  • a Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment introduced for people who are required to take 14 days of leave to self-isolate or quarantine at home or care for someone with COVID-19 and who have no income or appropriate leave entitlements.

A roadmap for reopening restrictions in Victoria commenced from 13 September. The roadmap included steps to be implemented in metro Melbourne and regional Victoria in September through to November, depending on public health advice and progress in a number of areas including case and testing numbers.

Frequency of activities

Key findings

  • Going shopping one or more times a week was the most common selected activity for Australians in the last four weeks (73%) and before COVID-19 restrictions in March (85%).
  • People in New South Wales were more likely to use public transport one or more times in the last four weeks (28% compared with 2% in Victoria and 17% in the rest of Australia).
  • Around one in three Australians with a job (31%) reported working from home most days in the last four weeks, compared with around one in eight people (12%) before March 2020.

Participation in activities

The survey asked people to reflect on how often they participated in selected activities before the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020. People were then asked how often they participated in the same activities in the four weeks before the survey.

These activities included:

  • working from home
  • using public transport
  • visiting bars or restaurants in person
  • attending social gatherings of more than 10 people
  • eating takeaway food
  • visiting a public park or recreation area
  • exercising at a gym or playing sport
  • going shopping
  • going on holiday for two nights or more.

At the time of the survey, many states and territories were in later stages of easing restrictions. The second wave of COVID-19 emerged in Victoria from mid-June 2020 leading to stronger restrictions within the state from August.

Activities prior to COVID-19 restrictions

Australians reported that prior to COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020, the activities they most often participated in one or more times a week included:

  • going shopping (85%)
  • visiting a public park or recreation area (52%)
  • eating takeaway food (45%).

People were also likely to report participating in these three activities in the last four weeks before the survey. From mid-August to mid-September, people continued to participate one or more times a week in:

  • going shopping (73%)
  • eating takeaway food (46%)
  • visiting a public park or recreation area (39%).

The biggest reported change in weekly participation in the last four weeks, comparing September with before March 2020, was reported for:

  • visiting bars or restaurants in person (down 19%)
  • attending social gatherings of more than 10 people (down 18%)
  • exercising at a gym or playing sports (down 16%)
  • using public transport (down 14%)
  • working from home (for people with a job) (up 19%).

At the time of the survey, Victoria’s COVID-19 restrictions included a curfew and ‘stay at home’ restrictions. This had an impact on participation in a number of activities. Other states and territories had generally eased restrictions but continued to monitor and respond to clusters with localised restrictions when required.

From mid-August to mid-September:

  • people in New South Wales were more likely to use public transport one or more times in the last four weeks (28% compared with 2% in Victoria and 17% in the rest of Australia)
  • half the people in Victoria (52%) and New South Wales (50%) with a job worked from home one or more times in the last four weeks (compared with 39% in the rest of Australia)
  • people in Victoria were less likely to visit a bar or restaurant in person one or more times in the last four weeks (4% compared to 64% in both New South Wales and the rest of Australia).
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  1. Proportion is based on people 18 years and over with a job at the time of the survey.

Frequency of working from home

The survey asked people to reflect on how often they worked from home prior to COVID-19 restrictions, and their work from home frequency in the last four weeks. Australians with a job reported that prior to the COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020:

  • 12% worked from home most days
  • 10% worked from home at least once a week
  • 6% worked from home at least once a month.

In the last four weeks, Australians currently with a job reported:

  • 31% worked from home most days
  • 9% worked from home at least once a week
  • 6% worked from home at least once in the month.

Precautions

Key findings

  • Three in five Australians (60%) reported wearing a facemask due to COVID-19 in September.
  • The number of people in Australia wearing a facemask was similar to August (58%).

Precautions taken in the last week

Due to the number of daily cases in Victoria, from early August the Victoria Government instituted restrictions including curfews in Melbourne, mandatory facemask wearing and ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions across the state. These restrictions were still in place when the survey was conducted.

In September, almost all Australians (98%) took one or more precautions in the previous week because of the spread of COVID-19. These included:

  • washing hands or using hand sanitiser regularly (95%)
  • keeping physical distance from people (88%)
  • disinfecting surfaces before using them (64%)
  • wearing a facemask (60%)
  • getting home deliveries (22%).

In September, females (68%) were more likely than males (60%) to disinfect surfaces before using them.

People in Victoria were more likely than people in other states and territories to take certain precautions. These included:

  • wearing a facemask (97% compared with 78% in New South Wales and 23% in other states and territories)
  • getting home deliveries (39% compared with 20% in New South Wales and 13% in other states and territories).

People aged 18 to 64 years were more likely to get home deliveries (24%) than those aged 65 years and over (13%).

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  1. Precautions in the week before interview in September.

  2. Including groceries and household products.

Compared with August, fewer people were taking the following precautions in September:

  • keeping physical distance from people (92% in August compared with 88% in September)
  • disinfecting surfaces before using them (70% in August compared with 64% in September).

 

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  1. Data on households 'getting home deliveries' as a precaution taken was not collected in early May.

Information sources

Key findings

  • Almost all Australians (99%) reported getting health information related to COVID-19 in September.
  • The most common sources used in September were Australian news sources (76%) and government health information sources (50%).

Main sources of COVID-19 information

In September, almost all Australians (99%) reported receiving information relating to COVID-19. The sources they received information from included:

  • Australian news sources (76%)
  • government health information sources (50%)
  • social media such as Facebook and YouTube (32%)
  • family or friends (22%)
  • their General Practitioner (GP) or other health professional (19%)
  • international news sources (17%)
  • other government information sources (14%).

Males were more likely to obtain information about COVID-19 from news sources in September than females, including:

  • Australian new sources (81% compared with 72%)
  • international news sources (21% compared with 13%).

For Australians who reported receiving information about COVID-19 in September, the survey found:

  • people aged 18-64 years (36%) were more likely to use social media sources than those aged 65 years and over (15%)
  • people aged 65 years and over (28%) were more likely to receive information from their GP or another health professional than those aged 18-64 years (16%)
  • people in families with children (54%) and without children (52%) were more likely to use government health information sources than people who lived alone (41%)
  • people in Victoria were less likely to receive health information from a GP or other health professional (13%) than those in New South Wales (21%) and the rest of Australia (20%).
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  1. Respondents may have reported using more than one source of health information. Components are not able to be added together to produce a total.

Household finances

Key findings

  • 21% of Australians living in family households with children reported that their household finances had worsened in the last four weeks (compared with 14% in lone person households and family households without children).
  • One in seven Australians (15%) have both increased savings and reduced debt since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March.

Change to household finances

The survey asked people if their household finances in the last four weeks had improved, remained the same or worsened due to COVID-19. Around seven in ten Australians (72%) reported their household finances remained unchanged, one in six (16%) felt they had worsened and one in eight (12%) felt they had improved.

When broken down by household living arrangements, in the last four weeks:

  • 21% of Australians living in family households with children reported that their household finances had worsened
  • 14% of Australians living alone or in family households without children, reported their household finances had worsened.

The same question on household finances was asked in mid-June. At that time, two-thirds of Australians (66%) reported their household finances remained unchanged, one in five (19%) felt they had worsened and 16% felt they had improved.

 

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The survey also asked respondents whether their savings had increased and/or debt had reduced since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March. 

  • One in five Australians (22%) have increased their savings.
  • One in fourteen Australians (7%) have reduced their debt.
  • One in seven Australians (15%) have both increased savings and reduced debt.
  • Almost half of Australians (49%) did not increase savings or reduce debt.

Actions to relieve household financial stress

One in five Australians (19%) reported that their household took one or more financial actions to support basic living expenses between mid-August to mid-September. The same question was asked for the period between mid-May to mid-June. At that time, 14% of Australians reported that their household took one or more financial actions to support basic living expenses.

The most common financial actions taken between mid-August to mid-September were:

  • drawing on accumulated savings or term deposits (9%)
  • reducing home loan payments (4%).

Spending

Key findings

  • In four weeks following the survey, three in ten Australians expected their usual spending to decrease for public transport (30%) and taxi and ride-sharing fees (29%). One in eight (12%) expected their spending on motor vehicle costs to increase.

Expected future spending

The survey asked questions on expected future spending habits on a range of goods and services, for the four weeks following the survey. This included spending on:

  • take-away or delivered meals
  • eating out at cafés, restaurants, pubs or bars
  • clothing and footwear
  • personal care (e.g. hairdressers, barbers, beauty services and products)
  • household furnishings and equipment (e.g. sofas, desks, electrical goods)
  • motor vehicle costs (e.g. fuel, repairs)
  • public transport
  • taxi and ride-sharing services
  • recreation or leisure activities (e.g. going to cinemas, playing sports, gym).

The majority of Australians who spend money on the goods and services listed expected their spending to remain the same in the four weeks following the survey.

For those who spend money on the selected goods or services, in the four weeks following the survey:

  • three in ten (30%) expected their spending on public transport to decrease
  • approximately three in ten (29%) expected their spending on taxi and ride-sharing fees to decrease
  • just over one in four (27%) expected their spending on eating out at cafés, restaurants, pubs or bars to decrease, whilst one in eleven (9%) expected their spending to increase
  • one in eight (12%) expected their spending on motor vehicle costs (e.g. fuel, repairs) to increase.
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Stimulus payments

Coronavirus Supplement

From 27 April 2020, the Commonwealth Government paid eligible income support recipients a fortnightly Coronavirus Supplement of $550 along with their usual payments. The Methodology section provides further detail of eligible recipients.

In mid-September one in ten Australians (10%) said they were currently receiving the Coronavirus Supplement.

Persons aged 18 to 64 years were more likely to report receiving the Coronavirus Supplement than those aged 65 years and over (12% compared with 3%).

When broken down by state:

  • 11% of Australians living in New South Wales reported receiving the Coronavirus Supplement
  • 10% of Australians living in Victoria reported receiving the Coronavirus Supplement.

Of Australians receiving the Coronavirus Supplement:

  • 32% reported mainly using the payment on household supplies, including groceries
  • 28% reported mainly using the payment on mortgage or rent payments.

The survey also asked respondents to select all uses of the Coronavirus Supplement. Paying household bills (71%) was the most commonly reported use of the Coronavirus Supplement, followed by purchasing household supplies, including groceries (67%*).

The following image provides readers with a word cloud, which is a collection of words depicted in different sizes. The bigger and bolder words reflect the more commonly reported uses of the Coronavirus Supplement.

Stimulus payment uses for persons aged 18 years and over receiving the Coronavirus Supplement

Stimulus payment uses for persons aged 18 years and over receiving the Coronavirus Supplement

Stimulus payment uses for persons aged 18 years and over receiving the Coronavirus Supplement

The following image provides readers with a word cloud. The bigger and bolder words reflect the more commonly reported uses of the Coronavirus Supplement.

• household bills (71%)
• groceries (67%*)
• mortgage or rent (46%)
• saving it (41%*)
• medical services or supplies (32%*)
• recreation or leisure activities (29%*)
• clothing or footwear (16%)
• credit cards or other personal debt (14%)
• furnishings or household equipment (11%).

JobKeeper Payment

The JobKeeper Payment was introduced by the Commonwealth Government as a subsidy to help keep businesses trading and people employed during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the survey, affected employers and sole traders were able to claim $1,500 per fortnight per eligible employee from 30 March 2020. The Methodology section provides further detail of eligible recipients.

In mid-September approximately one in seven Australians (14%) said they were currently receiving the JobKeeper Payment from their employer.

Persons aged 18 to 64 years were much more likely to be receiving the JobKeeper Payment than those aged 65 years and over (17% compared with 3%).

When broken down by state:

  • 16% of Australians living in New South Wales reported receiving the JobKeeper Payment
  • 14% of Australians living in Victoria reported receiving the JobKeeper Payment.

Of the Australians receiving the JobKeeper Payment, three in five (60%*) were receiving less income than their usual pay. One in six (18%) received about the same income, and one in five (22%) received more income in September.

Of the Australians receiving the JobKeeper Payment whose usual pay is more than $1,500, approximately two in five (44%*) were being paid the difference between the JobKeeper Payment and their usual pay by their employer.

Of Australians receiving the JobKeeper Payment:

  • 31% reported mainly using the payment on household bills
  • 25% reported mainly using the payment on mortgage or rent payments.

The survey also asked respondents to select all of the uses of the JobKeeper Payment they are receiving. Paying household bills (77%*) was the most commonly reported use of the JobKeeper Payment followed by paying mortgage/rent (47%*).

The following image provides readers with a word cloud. The bigger and bolder words reflect the more common uses of the JobKeeper Payment.

Stimulus payment uses for persons aged 18 years and over receiving the JobKeeper Payment

Stimulus payment uses for persons aged 18 years and over receiving the JobKeeper Payment

Stimulus payment uses for persons aged 18 years and over receiving the JobKeeper Payment

The following image provides readers with a word cloud. The bigger and bolder words reflect the more common uses of the JobKeeper Payment.

• household bills (77%*)
• groceries (61%)
• mortgage or rent (47%*)
• saving it (26%*)
• credit cards or other personal debt (23%)
• medical services or supplies (22%)
• recreation or leisure activities (12%)
• clothing or footwear (10%)
• furnishings or household equipment (3%).

School and child care arrangements

Key findings

  • Around one in three Australians in households with children attending school or care (35%) kept their children home due to COVID-19 in the last four weeks.
  • Around one in six people (17%) kept children home due to illness, and the same proportion (17%) kept children home due to closures.

Care for children at home

The survey asked people about care arrangements for any children in the household who needed to stay home in the last four weeks due to COVID-19 (including illness and school closures). Around one in three Australians (35%) in households with children attending school or care kept their children home due to COVID-19 in the last four weeks (compared with 76% in mid-May). Around one in six people in households with children (17%) kept children home due to illness, and the same number (17%) kept children home due to closures.

At the time of the survey, Victoria had returned to ‘stay at home’ restrictions and remote learning for schools with onsite access only for children of essential workers and vulnerable children. Most schools, pre-schools and child care facilities in other states and territories were operating as normal (with the exception of some school closures where potential COVID-19 contacts had occurred).

More than four in five (83%*) households with children in Victoria had kept children home in the last four weeks, compared with one in five in both New South Wales (21%) and the rest of Australia (19%). School, pre-school and child care closures was the main reason for people keeping their children home in Victoria (72%*).

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Of the people who kept their children home in the last four weeks, almost two in five (39%*) worked from home to care for their children, over a third (35%*) changed or reduced work hours to care for their children, and one in five (20%) took leave from work. Around one in four (24%) reported purchasing additional equipment to support their children's learning.

Of the people with children home due to COVID-19:

  • 44% shared caring responsibilities with another member of the household
  • 39%* looked after them full time
  • 22% made other arrangements or had children who did not need supervision.

Employment

Key findings

  • In mid-September, a high proportion of people in Victoria reported having a job and not working paid hours (15% in Victoria compared with 4% in New South Wales and 5% in the rest of Australia).
  • One in six people with a job (18%) reported they did not currently have enough paid sick leave to take two weeks off work if needed.
  • One in three people with a job (33%) reported they did not have access to paid sick leave.

Current job status

The survey collected information on the current (mid-September) job status of all respondents. Respondents were asked simple questions about changes to their job situation, rather than the full suite of employment-related questions included in the ABS’ Labour Force Survey (see Questionnaires Used in the Labour Force Survey (cat. no. 6232.0)). The results of this survey are, therefore, not directly comparable to Australia’s official Labour Force measures. The Margin of Error (MoE) on these estimates is around six times greater than for Labour Force statistics (the Labour Force Survey sample is around 33 times larger). More information about measuring the labour market impacts of COVID-19 can be found here.

Persons aged 18 years and over, self-reported job status
August 2020(a)September 2020(b)
Has a job68.268.3
Working paid hours60.361
Not working paid hours7.97.3
Does not have a paid job(c)31.831.7
  1. Job status reported mid-August.
  2. Current job status based on changes between mid-August and mid-September.
  3. Includes all people without a job and should be considered only a loose approximation for the combined “unemployed” and “not in the labour force” groups.

The survey found that the proportion of Australians aged 18 years and over who had a job working paid hours remained stable for around three in five people between mid-August (60%) and mid-September (61%). The proportion of people who had a job and were not working paid hours was also stable with 8% in mid-August and 7% in mid-September. A high proportion of people in Victoria reported having a job and not working paid hours (15% in Victoria compared with 4% in New South Wales and 5% in the rest of Australia).

The results of the most recent Labour Force Survey, with data in respect of the two weeks from 2 August to 15 August, collected over the three weeks from 9 August to 29 August, can be found using the following link: Labour Force, Australia, August 2020. The September 2020 results will be released on 15 October 2020.

Sick leave

One in six people with a job (18%) reported they did not currently have enough paid sick leave to take two weeks off work if needed.

A further one in three people with a job (33%) reported they did not have access to paid sick leave.

Search for employment

In September, one in six Australians (16%) had actively looked for work in the past four weeks. One in six people (17%) intended to look for work in the next four weeks.

Of those who had not looked for work and did not intend to look for work, almost two thirds (64%) reported they did not need or want more or different work.

What’s next?

The ABS will follow up with the same people in October to undertake the third cycle of the monthly Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey. The topics include: 

  • job status
  • individual and household stressors
  • security of access to food
  • household financial pressures and use of early access superannuation
  • health precautions and experiences with COVID-19 symptoms
  • participation in selected activities
  • domestic and international travel intentions.

Information from the October survey will be released in early November 2020.

The ABS would like to thank all participants for their involvement in the survey. The information collected is of value to inform government and community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Household impacts visual summary

Show all

Household impacts visual summary - September 2020

Visual summary of Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey - September 2020

Household impacts visual summary - September 2020

Headline: Australian households during COVID-19 - September 2020

Tile 1: Subheading of tile 1: Where are we getting our COVID-19 info from?
• Australian news sources - 76%
• Government health information sources - 50%
• Social media - 32%
• Family or friends - 22%
• GP/Health professional - 19%
• International news sources - 17%
• Other government information sources - 14%
81% of men get their COVID-19 information from Australian news sources compared with 72% of women.

Tile 2: Subheading of tile 2: Australians shopping less since COVID-19 restrictions...
• before March, 85% of people were going shopping at least once a week compared to 73% in September
• before March, 45% of people were eating take away food at least once a week compared to 46% in September
• before March, 52% of people were visiting a park or recreation area once a week compared to 39% in September.

Tile 3: Over 2 in 5 people have increased savings and/or reduced debt since COVID-19 restrictions started in March.

Tile 4: More employed people are working from home most days with 12% of people with jobs working from home before March compared to 31% in September.

Tile 5: 1 in 6 workers don’t have enough paid sick leave to take two weeks off work if needed and 1 in 3 don’t have any paid sick leave.

Results from the Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey.
Detailed data on the impacts of COVID-19 can be found at abs.gov.au/covid19

Data downloads

Data item list

Tables 1 - 13

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4940.0