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Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey

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

Reference period
March 2021
Released
14/04/2021

Key statistics

  • One in six (18%) users of public transport have not used it since the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • One in six (17%) volunteered before March 2020 and continued in the last 12 months.
  • Women (22%) were more likely than men (17%) to have experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress.

About this issue

This publication presents results from the Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, a longitudinal survey which collects information from the same panel each month. The March 2021 survey was run between 12 and 21 March 2021 via online forms and telephone interviews. The survey included around 1,676 continuing participants from previous cycles and responses from around 2,246 new participants, bringing the total panel to 3,922 people.

The March 2021 survey collected information on:

  • use of public transport
  • voluntary work and unpaid help
  • emotional and mental wellbeing
  • health precautions
  • sources of health information
  • stimulus payments
  • job status.

The scope of the survey was people 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 collects information on different topics.

From August 2020, the survey introduced a new panel of respondents but kept a similar design to the eight fortnightly surveys conducted from 1 April to 10 July 2020. The results for all past surveys can be accessed 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. The monthly survey gathered information via online forms and telephone interviews. The previous fortnightly survey was collected via the telephone only. This change in survey methodology means that comparing topics across the two survey iterations should be treated with caution.

Proportions marked with an asterisk (*) have a Margin of Error (MoE) greater than 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 12 to 21 March 2021, when this survey was conducted, states and territories identified new cases of COVID-19 predominately from overseas. The risk of further transmission was managed through hotel quarantine. Local transmission was identified as the source of two cases in New South Wales and one in Queensland, however both were managed without the need for additional restrictions or lockdowns.

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 2020)
  • 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 2020)
  • stimulus payments including:
    • a Coronavirus Supplement paid fortnightly from 27 April 2020 to eligible income support recipients along with their usual payments (reduced in September 2020 and January 2021, and extended until 31 March 2021)
    • a JobKeeper Payment passed in legislation on 15 April 2020 and paid to employers to keep more Australians in jobs and support businesses affected by the COVID-19 restrictions (reduced to include two tiers in September 2020 and January 2021, and extended until 28 March 2021)
  • various restrictions, including shutting down non-essential services, limits on gatherings and social distancing rules from March 2020
  • a guided easing of these restrictions in many states and territories using the National Cabinet agreed three step framework introduced in early May 2020
  • a COVID-19 vaccination program from February 2021.

All states and territories have eased restrictions other than for large gatherings or occasions where social distancing is difficult. Most jurisdictions require facemasks to be worn at airports and for air travel. At the time of the survey, facemasks were mandatory on public transport in Sydney and Melbourne.

Participation in the COVID-19 vaccination program in Australia is in phases. At the time of the survey eligible participants in phase 1a included quarantine and border workers, frontline health care workers, and aged care and disability care staff and residents.

Public transport

Key findings

  • One in seven (14%) Australians reported using public transport one or more times a week in March 2021, a decrease from almost one in four (23%) who reported using public transport before the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020.
  • Of the people who reported regularly using public transport before COVID-19 restrictions, around one in six (18%) had not used public transport since March 2020.
  • People understanding, and visibly following, COVID-safe practices was the main action that would make people more comfortable using public transport (32%).

Use of public transport

There has been a slow, steady return to using public transport since restrictions began in March 2020. One in seven (14%) Australians reported using public transport one or more times a week in March 2021 compared with one in 11 (9%) in September 2020. However, this is still less than almost one in four (23%) who used public transport one or more times a week before COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020.

  1. Includes use of public transport 'all or most days' or 'at least once a week' in the last four weeks at the time of reporting

Of the people who reported regularly using public transport before the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions, around one in six (18%) had not used public transport since March 2020.

The survey asked about expected use of public transport after the COVID-19 pandemic. Three in five (61%) people expect their public transport use will remain the same, while 13% expect their use to increase and 7% expect it will decrease. One in 10 (10%) people were unsure about their future use of public transport, while the same proportion (10%) reported they will not use public transport in the future.

Comfort with using public transport, taxis and ride share services

Prior to the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020, over four in five Australians reported being comfortable or very comfortable using public transport (82%) and taxi or ride share services (83%). In March 2021, around three in five people reported still being comfortable or very comfortable with using public transport (60%) or taxi and ride share services (63%).

The main actions that would help people feel more comfortable to use public transport, taxi or ride share services were:

  • people understanding, and visibly following, COVID-safe practices (such as wearing facemasks, social distancing and sanitising hands) (32%)
  • widespread uptake of a vaccine (15%)
  • having received a vaccine (10%).

Voluntary work and unpaid help

Key findings

  • One in five (21%) Australians did unpaid voluntary work (volunteering) for an organisation or group in the last 12 months, compared to one in four (26%) prior to 1 March 2020.
  • The most common reasons for people not volunteering for an organisation or group in the last four weeks were that they could not fit volunteering in around paid work (31%) and they could not fit it around family or caring commitments (22%).

Volunteering for an organisation or group

In March 2021, the survey asked people whether they did unpaid voluntary work (volunteering) for an organisation or group either in the 12 months prior to 1 March 2020, or in the last 12 months (between March 2020 and March 2021).

One in five (21%) Australians did unpaid voluntary work for an organisation or group in the last 12 months, compared to one in four (26%) prior to 1 March 2020.

One in six (17%) Australians volunteered prior to 1 March 2020 and continued to volunteer in the last 12 months, including 13% who volunteered in the last four weeks.

The survey also asked current and former volunteers if they had access to online volunteering through their organisation or group in the last 12 months.

Online volunteering was available to about one in five (21%) volunteers. Of those with access, three in four (76%) participated in online volunteering.

Reasons for not volunteering in the last four weeks

Australians who had volunteered for an organisation or group at some point (either before 1 March 2020 or in the last 12 months), but did not do so in the last four weeks, were asked their reasons for not volunteering.

The most common reasons for not volunteering were:

  • could not fit in around paid work (31%)
  • could not fit around family or caring commitments (22%)
  • my previous volunteering group stopped or reduced their operation (16%).
  1. Includes unpaid volunteering for an organisation or group
  2. More than one response may have been reported. Components are not able to be added together to produce a total

Unpaid help and informal volunteering

The survey asked whether people provided unpaid help to someone living outside their household in the last four weeks, such as assisting with errands, childcare, or domestic work. Two in five (43%) provided unpaid help to a family member or other person living outside their household.

Of those who provided unpaid help in the last four weeks to someone living outside their household:

  • women (72%) were more likely than men (54%) to provide unpaid help to a family member
  • men (68%) were more likely than women (57%) to provide unpaid help to a non-family member.

If unpaid help is provided to someone not related to the helper, it can also be called informal volunteering. Further details on informal volunteering is provided in the survey Methodology.

Over one in four (27%) Australians did informal volunteering in the last four weeks.

  1. Unpaid help includes help with errands, childcare, domestic work, emotional support, and other kinds of personal or community assistance
  2. All recipients live outside of the helper's household
  3. More than one response may have been reported. Components are not able to be added together to produce a total
  4. Non-relative in another household includes friends, neighbours, work colleagues and people within the community or neighbourhood

Reasons for not providing unpaid help in the last four weeks

About three in five (57%) people did not provide unpaid help to anyone living outside their household in the last four weeks.

Of those who did not provide unpaid help, the most common reasons were:

  • did not think there is a need (40%)
  • could not fit in around paid work (27%)
  • could not fit in around caring responsibilities for my household (21%).
  1. Includes help with errands, childcare, domestic work, emotional support, and other kinds of personal or community assistance
  2. To someone living outside of their household
  3. More than one response may have been reported. Components are not able to be added together to produce a total

Emotional and mental wellbeing

Key findings

  • One in five (20%) Australians experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress in March 2021, similar to psychological distress levels experienced in November 2020 (21%).
  • Women were more likely than men to have experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress (22% compared with 17%).
  • More (28%) younger Australians (aged 18 to 34 years) experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress than those aged 35 to 64 years (18%) or 65 years and over (9%).

Emotional and mental wellbeing in the previous four weeks

The survey asked Australians about feelings that had an adverse impact on emotional and mental wellbeing. The feelings asked about are those associated with experiences of anxiety and depression. People were asked how frequently in the previous four weeks they felt:

  • tired out for no good reason
  • nervous
  • so nervous that nothing could calm you down
  • hopeless
  • restless or fidgety
  • so restless you could not sit still
  • depressed
  • that everything was an effort
  • so sad that nothing could cheer you up
  • worthless.

This complete question set is known as the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10). These questions were also asked in November 2020 and a subset of six questions were asked in August 2020.

At the time of the survey there were only a few local COVID-19 transmissions, which were managed without lockdown, and the vaccination program had begun. In comparison:

  • in August 2020, Victoria was managing a second wave of COVID-19 with strong restrictions in place, while other states and territories had been easing them since May 2020
  • in November 2020, all states and territories had been easing restrictions including Victoria, however there was a three-day lockdown in Adelaide to manage a local cluster of COVID-19 cases.

In March 2021, fewer Australians (27%) reported they felt nervous at least some of the time in the previous four weeks, compared with August 2020 (46%) and November 2020 (30%).

Between November 2020 and March 2021, similar proportions of Australians reported that at least some of the time they felt:

  • everything was an effort (26% November 2020, 24% March 2021)
  • restless or fidgety (24% November 2020, 22% March 2021)
  • hopeless (15% November 2020, 14% March 2021)
  • so sad that nothing could cheer them up (12% November 2020 and March 2021)
  • worthless (11% November 2020, 12% March 2021).

In March 2021, when compared with November 2020 women were less likely to report at least some of the time feeling:

  • nervous (30% compared with 35%)
  • everything was an effort (26% compared with 31%)
  • hopeless (15% compared with 19%).

Psychological distress

The Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) questions were asked in November 2020 and again in March 2021. The K10 provides a measure of the mental health and wellbeing of a population and allows for reporting of levels of psychological distress.

Around one in five (20%) Australians experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress in March 2021, which was similar to psychological distress experienced in November 2020 (21%).

In March 2021:

  • women were more likely than men to have experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress (22% compared with 17%)
  • more (28%) younger Australians (aged 18 to 34 years) experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress than those aged 35 to 64 years (18%) or 65 years and over (9%).

Seeing a doctor or other health professional

People who, at least a little of the time, experienced one or more of the feelings associated with anxiety and depression were asked if they had discussed these feelings with a doctor or other health professional. Similar proportions reported that they discussed these feelings with a doctor or other health professional in March 2021 (16%) compared with November 2020 (17%).

Precautions

Key findings

  • In March 2021, fewer Australians (66%) reported keeping a physical distance from others in the last week compared with September 2020 (88%).
  • Fewer also reported disinfecting surfaces before using them in the last week (48% in March 2021 compared with 64% in September 2020).

Precautions taken in the last week

At the time of the survey, all states and territories had eased most restrictions. Although there were some cases of COVID-19 acquired locally, no lockdowns occurred while the survey was conducted.

In March 2021, almost all (94%) Australians took one or more precautions in the previous week because of the spread of COVID-19. This was similar to January 2021 (94%), but has decreased compared to six months ago (98% in September 2020).

The precautions taken in March 2021 included:

  • washing hands or using hand sanitiser regularly (89%, similar to 90% in January 2021, a decrease from 95% in September 2020)
  • keeping a physical distance from people (66%, a decrease from 73% in January 2021 and 88% in September 2020)
  • wearing a facemask (51%, a decrease from 64% in January 2021 and 60% in September 2020)
  • disinfecting surfaces before using them (48%, similar to 48% in January 2021, a decrease from 64% in September 2020)
  • staying at home (31%, a decrease from 40% in January 2021)
  • getting home deliveries, including groceries and household products (12%, a decrease from 15% in January 2021 and 22% in September 2020).
  1. Precaution was not collected in September and October 2020

In March 2021:

  • women (54%) were more likely than men (42%) to disinfect surfaces before using them
  • people aged 65 years and over (93%) were more likely than those aged 18 to 34 years (85%) and 35 to 64 years (89%) to wash their hands or use hand sanitiser regularly
  • people in Victoria (94%) were more likely than those in New South Wales (58%), Queensland (17%), South Australia (19%), Western Australia (13%) and the rest of Australia (16%) to wear a facemask
  • people in Victoria (76%) were more likely than those in New South Wales (66%), Queensland (64%), South Australia (59%), Western Australia (51%) and the rest of Australia (66%) to keep a physical distance from others
  • people living in family households without children (34%) were more likely than those in family households with children (27%) to stay at home due to COVID-19
  • people with disability (39%) were more likely than those with no disability (29%) to stay at home due to COVID-19
  • people with a long-term health condition (51%) were more likely than those without a long-term health condition (46%) to disinfect surfaces before using them.
  1. Precautions in the week before interview in March 2021
  2. Rest of Australia includes Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory

Information sources

Key findings

  • All Australians interviewed (100%) reported using one or more sources of health information related to COVID-19.
  • The most common sources used were Australian news sources (72%) and government health information sources (55%).

Main sources of health information related to COVID-19

In March 2021, all Australians interviewed (100%) reported using one or more sources of health information related to COVID-19.

The most commonly reported sources of information were:  

  • Australian news sources (72%)
  • government health information sources (55%)
  • social media such as Facebook and YouTube (31%)
  • General Practitioner (GP) or other health professional (23%)
  • family or friends (21%)
  • international news sources (19%)
  • other government information sources (14%).

Of those who reported using health information sources related to COVID-19:

  • men (23%) were more likely than women (16%) to use international news sources
  • people aged 18 to 34 years (46%) were more likely than those aged 35 to 64 years (30%) and 65 years and over (11%) to use social media 
  • people in Victoria (18%) were more likely than those in Queensland (12%), South Australia (12%), Western Australia (12%) and the rest of Australia (10%) to use other government information sources (other than government health information sources)
  • people living in family households with children (41%) were more likely than those in family households without children (29%) and those living alone (21%) to use social media
  • people with a job (60%) were more likely than those without a job (45%) to use government health information sources
  • people with no disability (34%) were more likely than those with disability (23%) to use social media
  • people without a long-term health condition (35%) were more likely than those with a long-term condition (26%) to use social media.
  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

Stimulus payments

Key findings

  • Paying household bills was the most common use of the Coronavirus Supplement (71%*) and the JobKeeper Payment (76%*).

Coronavirus Supplement

From 1 January 2021, the Commonwealth Government introduced changes to the Coronavirus Supplement. Eligible income support recipients received a fortnightly Coronavirus Supplement of $150 along with their usual payments, a decrease from the $250 payment received from 25 September to 31 December 2020. The Coronavirus Supplement ended on 31 March 2021. Further details on eligible recipients is provided in the survey Methodology.

In March 2021, approximately one in 11 (9%) Australians reported they were currently receiving the Coronavirus Supplement.

Of those receiving the Coronavirus Supplement:

  • 36%* reported mainly using the payment on household supplies, including groceries.
  • 30%* reported mainly using the payment on household bills.

The survey also asked Coronavirus Supplement recipients to select all of the uses of the payment in the last four weeks. Paying household bills (71%*) was the most commonly reported use of the Coronavirus Supplement, followed by purchasing household supplies, including groceries (57%*).

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. From 4 January 2021, changes to the JobKeeper Payment came into effect with affected employers and sole traders able to claim either $1,000 or $650 per fortnight per eligible employee based on eligibility requirements. The JobKeeper Payment ended on 28 March 2021. Further details on eligible recipients is provided in the survey Methodology.

In March 2021, approximately one in 20 (5%) Australians reported currently receiving the JobKeeper Payment from their employer. 

Of those receiving the JobKeeper Payment:

  • 67% reported receiving the $1,000 higher rate payment
  • 23% reported receiving the $650 lower rate payment
  • 10% did not know what rate they were receiving.

For those receiving the JobKeeper Payment:

  • 69%* reported receiving less income than their usual pay
  • 26%* were receiving about the same income
  • 5% reported they were receiving more income.

Of the Australians receiving the JobKeeper Payment whose usual pay is more than what they are receiving from the JobKeeper Payment, 67%* were being paid the difference between the JobKeeper Payment and their usual pay by their employer. 

Of those receiving the JobKeeper Payment:

  • 43%* reported mainly using the payment on mortgage or rent payments
  • 21% reported mainly using the payment on household bills.

The survey also asked JobKeeper Payment recipients to select all of the uses of the payment. Paying household bills (76%*) was the most commonly reported use, followed by purchasing household supplies, including groceries (56%*).

Job status

Key findings

  • The proportion of Australians who had a job working paid hours was similar in March 2021 (63%) and February 2021 (64%).

Current job status

The March 2021 survey included a transition of panel members (see the Methodology for more information). Continuing panel members were asked for changes in their job status and new panel members were asked their current job status. Responses are weighted and comparisons are included to show how the employment status of people has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 the Labour Force Survey questionnaire, available from the Collection method chapter in the Labour force, Australia methodology publication). 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 greater than for Labour Force statistics (the Labour Force Survey sample is around 13 times larger). More information about measuring the labour market impacts of COVID-19 can be found here.

Australians who had a job working paid hours was similar in March 2021 (63%) and February 2021 (64%). The proportion of people who had a job and were not working paid hours has remained at a similar level since November 2020.

Persons aged 18 years and over, self-reported job status
Aug-20(a)Sep-20(b)Oct-20(b)Nov-20(c)Dec-20(b)Jan-21(b)Feb-21(b)Mar-21(b)
Has a job68%68%67%67%67%67%68%66%
Working paid hours60%61%62%62%63%63%64%63%
Not working paid hours8%7%6%4%4%4%4%3%
Does not have a paid job(d)32%32%33%33%33%33%32%34%
  1. Job status reported mid-August
  2. Current job status based on changes between each collection
  3. Current job status based on changes between each collection for previous panel and reported status for new panel members
  4. 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 results of the most recent Labour Force Survey, with data in respect of the two weeks from 31 January to 13 February, collected over the three weeks from 7 to 27 February 2021, can be found using the following link: Labour Force, Australia, February 2021. The March 2021 results will be released 15 April 2021.

What’s next?

The ABS will follow up in April to undertake the ninth cycle of the monthly Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey. The topics include:

  • personal and household stressors
  • use of mental health services
  • digital services (including government, health and other services)
  • attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccines
  • symptom testing behaviours
  • household finances and spending
  • participation in selected activities
  • housing mobility
  • job status.

Information from the April survey will be released in mid-May 2021.

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.

Data downloads

Tables 1 - 15

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4940.0