ACT State of the Environment 2007

Indicator: Socio-economic equity

Summary

The relative wealth and wellbeing of the ACT population is still accompanied by distinct inequities within the ACT community. The ACT Government is addressing socioeconomic inequity by developing the Social Plan as part of the Canberra Plan, however in 2006,  13% (16,000) of total ACT households were in the bottom Australian equivalised income quintile. Australian Bureau of Statistics analysis placed seven Canberra suburbs in the 20 most advantaged areas nationally – Barton and Forrest ranked first and second respectively, O'Malley, fourth, Chapman eighth, Fadden 11th, Bruce 13th and Weetangera 19th – and none among the most disadvantaged. But within the ACT there is wide disparity; Symonstown, Charnwood, Braddon, Reid, Richardson, Belconnen, Weston Creek, Page and Scullin were rated in the Australian Bureau of Statistics index as the most disadvantaged. Disadvantaged suburbs have a very high proportion (78%) of unemployed heads of household and the geographic distribution of low-income households still resembles that for unemployed people, people aged 65 years or older, dwellings with no motor vehicles and, to a lesser extent, one-parent families with dependent children (ACTCOSS and NATSEM 2007:11–12; Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007a).

Income continued to be higher in the ACT than nationally, with average yearly earnings in the ACT ($75,000 in 2005–06) remaining higher than the Australian average ($54,000 in 2005–06) (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007c1). Gross household disposable income in the ACT ($49,923 per capita in 2005–06) is the highest of all jurisdictions, significantly extending the established lead over the national average of $31,061 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007c and 2007d).

The ACT continues to have the nation's second lowest proportion of government payments as the main income source (7.5%), and easily the highest proportion of wages and salaries as the main income source (78.7%). The ACT employment participation rate (15+ age group) remained significantly higher than the national figure (72.8% and 64.9%), with men's participation now increasing faster than women's, and men's earnings continuing to exceed those of females by a higher proportion than the national average (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007a; ACTCOSS and NATSEM 2007:12).

Equity in access to education is an area of concern, with an OECD finding placing the ACT among those places with high educational performance but also high impact of socioeconomic background on educational performance (see Education indicator). Data to enable comparison of outcomes and of the socioeconomic composition of schools, geographically and whether public or private, is essential so that this trend can be measured but was not available for this report.

Other data on health and on safety across socioeconomic groups were not available but are necessary for a fuller evaluation of trends in equity.

What the results tell us about the ACT

Employment and income highest in Australia

Level and reliability of household income is one of the most significant factors in assessing and illustrating social gradients and relative disadvantage. ACT median weekly earnings (at $722 in 2006) remained higher than the average for Australia ($466 in 2006), maintaining the lead recorded since 1994 when state of the environment reporting in the ACT started. Gross per capita household disposable income in the ACT in 2006–07 was $49, 923, compared with $31, 061 nationally, the excess of 60.7% compared with the average of 50.7% in 2003–04 shows an accelerating rate of increase, exceeding the national rate of increase and reflecting the much higher employment participation rate in the ACT (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007b; ACT CSE 2003).

The ACT labour force participation rate increased over the reporting period (from 71.2% in July 2003 to 72.9% in June 2007), maintaining the lead over the national rate (63.5% in June 2003 and 64.9% in June 2007), with the increase in men's participation (2% points in ACT and 1% point nationally) higher than women's (1.4% points and -1.8% points nationally). No recent data on trends in workforce participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT were available to measure against the last figures showing participation in the workforce (68% in 2001 when a national average of Indigenous employment was 63%). The 2006 Census showed the ACT trend to higher employment in the private sector (60%) than the public sector (40%) observed in 2001 (58.3% to 41.7%) continued, reversing the 1995 profile when 56.9% of the ACT workforce was employed in the public sector and 43.1% in the private sector. However, those with skills required in government administration and defence were the most advantaged job seekers at the end of the reporting period, with 10,500 new positions filled in 2005–07, and by far the highest growth rate over the reporting period (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008; ACT Government 2004).

An even but unequal spread

Compared with other Australian cities, Canberra's demographically homogenous suburbs have largely even social structures. For instance, there are not concentrations of people speaking particular languages in selected suburbs, though Acton's high proportion of Australian National University students means the suburb has 36.3% of the non-English-speaking population who speak Chinese, followed by Bruce (with University of Canberra students) with 20.4%, and Macarthur with 18.2%. The lowest proportions are in Yarralumla (1.2%), Macgregor (1.2%) and Duffy (2.1%).

Unemployment produces a similar minor clustering, with the high percentages of unemployed people living in Acton, Bruce and part of Belconnen Town Centre apparently reflecting high proportions of students in those areas. These were also areas with relatively high proportions of people aged 15–24 years, people speaking a language other than English at home, and recent arrivals. The inner northern suburbs of Turner, Reid and Braddon also contained a high proportion of recent arrivals, low-income households and privately owned rented dwellings. The disparity in household income – 2006 around 13% (16,000) of ACT households were in the bottom Australian income quintile – is similarly geographically spread, with the largest number of lowest income households in the Belconnen district, but the highest proportion (20%) in the North Canberra district. As well, 78% of households in this bottom income quintile have an unemployed head of household (ACTCOSS and NATSEM 2007).

The Territory's high education levels, like the high average income and high employment rate, also mask a disparity in access to education, though the contribution of this factor to increasing inequity is not gauged here as data were not included in the 2003 indicator. The 2007 Education indicator does not provide comparisons, but shows that in the present reporting period Indigenous students and students with disabilities are far more intensively represented in government schools (2.6% and 4.8%) than in private schools (0.9% and 1.4%). The children of low-income families also form a higher proportion of the student body in government schools (almost 25%) than in private schools (13% in Catholic schools and 10% in other private schools). Educational outcomes, and thus the persistence of disadvantage, are affected, as shown by the OECD finding that places the ACT among those places with high educational performance but also high impact of socioeconomic background on educational performance (see the Education indicator).

Some 800 new settlers a year come to Canberra; most currently come from New Zealand (15.3%), followed by China (9.5%), the United Kingdom (8.7%) and India (8.3%). Overseas-born people living in Canberra had a higher rate of diabetes and heart disease conditions than Australian-born Canberrans, but a lower rate of asthma. In part this is due to the older age structure for overseas-born people. Nearly one-quarter of hospital admissions in Canberra were of people who were born overseas, with nearly one-third born in the United Kingdom and Ireland and over one-third born in the rest of Europe, while Asian-born Canberrans comprised 15.4% of hospital admissions (ACT Government n.d.).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up about 1% of the total population of Canberra and while there are some concentrations of this group living in some suburbs (for example, Narrabundah, Charnwood, Lyons, and Phillip), they are more evenly spread across many of Canberra's suburbs, than in other cities. Data were not available for measuring key trends in removing inequity in this group – for example, number of children over 14 still living with both parents (less than half the rate for the non-Indigenous population in 2001), Indigenous children living in households without any employed parents (36% in 2001), and home ownership (10 times more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households owned their dwelling in 2001 than 20 years previously) (ACT Government 2004).

While not geographically distinct, the relative wealth and wellbeing of the ACT population is still accompanied by distinct inequities within the ACT community, despite the ACT Government addressing socioeconomic inequity at the end of the last reporting period in developing the Social Plan as part of the Canberra Plan. The Australian Bureau of Statistics' analysis of the 2006 Census figures placed seven Canberra suburbs in the 20 most advantaged areas nationally, but no Canberra suburb was placed in the category of most disadvantaged. Nevertheless, within the ACT there is wide disparity, with the suburbs of Symonstown, Charnwood, Braddon, Reid, Richardson, Belconnen, Weston Creek, Page and Scullin rated in the Australian Bureau of Statistics index the most disadvantaged of ACT suburbs.

The geographic distribution of low-income households still resembles that for unemployed people (with three-quarters of the lowest-income households having an unemployed head of household); people aged 65 years or older; dwellings with no motor vehicles; and, to a lesser extent, one-parent families with dependent children (ACTCOSS and NATSEM 2007:11–12; Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007a).

Data sources and references

Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006, Australian National Accounts: State Accounts 2005-2006 Reissue cat no. 5220.0, available at <http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/5220.0Explanatory%20Notes12005-06%20Reissue?OpenDocument>

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007a, 2006 Census of Population and Housing, cat. no. 2914, available at <http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/2914.02006?OpenDocument>

Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007b, Labour Force, Australia, October 2007, cat. no. 6202.0, available at <http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/ProductsbyReleaseDate/27AF92FCC4F2D2CECA2573AF0014B6C3?OpenDocument>

Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007c Household Income and Income Distribution, Australia - Detailed Tables, 2005-06, cat. no. 6523.0.55.001, available at <http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/6523.0.55.001Main+Features12005-06?OpenDocument>

Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007d, Australian National Accounts: State Accounts, 2006–07, cat. no. 5220.0, available at <http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/5220.02006-07?OpenDocument>

ACT CSE Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment 2003, State of the Environment Report, Socioeconomic equity, ACT Government, available at <http://www.environmentcommissioner.act.gov.au/soe/2003actreport/indicators03/socio-economicequity03>

ACT Government 2004, A social and cultural profile of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Canberra, available at <http://www.cmd.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/1921/content.pdf>

ACT Government 2007, Housing Affordability Steering Group Report, available at <http://www.actaffordablehousing.com.au/resources/pdfs/Reportrev.pdf>

ACT Government n.d., A social and demographic profile of multicultural Canberra, available at <http://www.cmd.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/1922/multicultural.pdf>

ACTCOSS and NATSEM ACT Council of Social Service and National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling 2007, Characteristics of low income ACT households, available at <http://www.actcoss.org.au/publications/Publications_2007/2407REP.pdf>

Notes

1 Note: Yearly earnings are taken from ABS 2007c Table 16, then annualised

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