Dr Ingrid Johnston
Having a healthy population is good for the country. Being unwell reduces productivity and increases costs to the health system. As health costs spiral with an ageing population, making public policy decisions that will inevitably and unnecessarily add to those costs is a bad option. But we are making unnecessary additions to factors driving health care costs up –every day, by ignoring the evidence on the links between poverty and ill-health. It’s hard to be healthy when you are poor. It’s impossible to eat 3 healthy meals a day when you have $14 a day left over after paying rent. So 80-90% of people in this position skipped meals – because they simply could not afford to eat .
The health of the community overall and the marked social gradient in health is a result of the social determinants of health or ‘causes of the causes’ which include economic conditions. People in lower socioeconomic groups are at greater risk of poor health, have higher rates of illness, disability and death and live shorter lives than people from higher socioeconomic groups. Individuals’ health practices are also affected by social and economic circumstances, which can both cause and compound poorer health outcomes. In Australia, adults in the lowest socioeconomic areas are more likely than others to have poor diets , to have chronic conditions such as diabetes, to have uncontrolled high blood pressure, and to die prematurely . Addressing the underlying causes of ill-health and inequity is essential to creating social and physical environments that will promote and protect health.
One solution is simple, it’s available, it’s been tested, and it worked. Raising the rate. During COVID-19, the ‘Coronavirus Supplement’ had a significant and positive impact on those who received it. Buying fresh fruit and vegetables, paying bills and paying for essential medical and health treatments became possible for the first time . And it’s not just anecdotal evidence. An ANU study has confirmed that raising the rate had a direct positive impact on food security and health .
PHAA strongly supports the ‘Raise the Rate for Good’ campaign led by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), because of the powerful role of social determinants in influencing population health outcomes.
Systematically created social differences such as those faced by individuals on income support are a growing threat to national wellbeing and productivity, as well as to the idea of a ‘fair go’ in Australian society.
Being healthy requires the fundamentals of stable housing, affordable nutritious food, and access to affordable healthcare. Raising in the rate in 2020 has helped make this a reality for millions of Australians. We implore the Australian Government to raise the base rate of JobSeeker by at least $25 a day, taking the payment to $924 per fortnight.
We’ve seen the difference it can make. We cannot knowingly and willingly plunge people back into poverty and the sickness that comes with it.
Dr Ingrid Johnston is a senior policy officer at PHAA with a diverse background in public health both in Australia and overseas, including with government (State and Federal), academic, and community sector organisations. After many years working across forensic mental health, family violence, youth justice and prison health, Ingrid completed a PhD on adaptation of disaster response to climate change on remote Pacific islands and is on the Board of Australia’s Climate and Health Alliance.