A social justice stocktake reveals mental health top concern for Australians

Australians are most concerned about the mental health and housing affordability of people in their community, according to a stocktake of social justice issues by The Salvation Army (TSA).

TSA, in partnership with PureProfile, has undertaken a comprehensive survey across the length and breadth of Australia, to understand what social injustices people see in their own communities.

15,514 responses, representing at least 100 individuals from every federal electorate bar one (the newly created electorate of Hawke in Victoria, where no data was available), give key insights into social concerns impacting Australian communities.

Participants were asked to list the five social justice issues they noticed in their local area and to address what they thought could be done about them. The report highlighted people’s lack of confidence in their own capacity to address social inequities in their own neighbourhood. But the Salvos are confident that all twenty social justice issues articulated in this report can be successfully addressed if all parts of our society do their bit.

The report seeks to empower each of us to get involved in changing our communities for the better. As the report looks at each of the 20 social justice issues, it asks the question “What can we do?”

It starts at the macro, with what our federal government can do, then at a state or territory level, then into the community and finally at the micro-level, you and me, individuals. What is my responsibility in helping to address matters of social justice? What is yours?

“We are releasing this report to help empower candidates and voters to have a conversation about social justice,” Captain Stuart Glover, TSA’s Secretary for mission

It is pretty hard for each of us to take on 20 social justice issues, but it might be that your heart beats particularly strongly for matters relating to gender equity, or climate change, homelessness, aged care or mental health.

Some statistics

Nationally, the top six concerns as revealed in The Salvation Army’s National Social Justice Stocktake Report (NSJSR) are:

• Mental health (53.9 per cent)

• Housing affordability (52.4 per cent)

• Alcohol and drug misuse (42.6 per cent)

• Family violence (35.4 per cent)

• Homelessness (35.1 per cent)

• Poverty and financial hardship (25.9 per cent)

Other social issues listed include racism and discrimination; climate change; gender inequality and inequity; gambling harm; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage; LGBTQIA+ disadvantage and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

General Manager, Policy & Advocacy, Policy Research and Social Justice, Jennifer Kirkaldy, says that mental health topping the list of social concerns was not unexpected.

“However, I was surprised by how consistently mental health appeared at the local level, irrespective of any other factor such as poverty or the impact of COVID. Mental health appears in every single electorate report except the Northern Territory (where it ranked sixth) demonstrating that this really is a national issue,” explains Ms Kirkaldy.

Some of the statistics provided in the reports are very challenging. For example, although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults make up around two per cent of the national population, they constitute 27 per cent of the national prison population.

47 per cent of adults with disability have experienced violence compared with 36 per cent of those without disability.

Across our nation, more than 3.24 million people or 13.6 per cent of the population live below the poverty line. Of this, 774,000 children, or one in six children, are in poverty.

The poverty rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is 31 per cent, while poverty is twice as high in very remote communities (54 per cent) as in major cities (24 per cent).

Transgender people aged 14–25 are 15 times more likely to have attempted suicide.

Australia’s full-time gender pay gap is 13.4 per cent, with women earning an average $242.20 per week less than men.

The Stocktake as an election tool

“The Stocktake has several goals, but first and foremost it is designed to help people reflect on social justice and take action on the injustice and hardship they can see,” says The Salvation Army’s Secretary for Mission, Captain Stuart Glover.

“We are releasing this report to coincide with the election of the 47th parliament of Australia to help empower candidates and voters to have a conversation about social justice.

“The third main objective of this project is to inform how The Salvation Army focuses its social justice, social policy and advocacy work to ensure we are being led by the communities we serve and focused on the needs at hand.”

 “If we see someone in the street experiencing homelessness, we can smile and have a chat.”

The NSJSR includes 157 reports: a national report, a specific report for each state and territory and then for each federal electorate (bar Hawke).

Looking at the number two listed concern across almost all electorates – homelessness and housing affordability – how might an individual become more proactive in learning about this societal issue?

The NSJSR suggests the following: “We can treat people experiencing homelessness or housing stress with dignity and respect. If we see someone in the street experiencing homelessness, we can smile and have a chat. If we are in the position of owning an investment property, we can be ethical landlords.”

What does the stocktake suggest for our nation? A pretty cool aim, actually.

“We (the Federal Parliament) can make a commitment to eradicate homelessness. Making the end of homelessness a key measure of the success of governments will drive action to address the structural causes of homelessness – poverty, low income and the lack of social and affordable housing. Accountability will also encourage governments at all levels to work together.”

What can you do?

A federal election is likely to be called any day now. This report could be a great tool for you to lobby candidates in your electorate. Are they saying anything about mental health or housing affordability? Do they care about climate change, those experiencing significant disadvantage or violence?

This report can equip voters with current, relevant information about the big social justice issues in our community, as named by Australians about their own patch.

Statistics such as “In Melbourne, the median dwelling costs 7.1 times the median annual household income (up from 4.7 times in 2001)”.

And our national mental health statistics: Every year, 13.1 per cent of Australians experience an anxiety-related condition.  Nearly half our population will experience a mental disorder throughout their lifetime.

Could you make an appointment to speak to local candidates and say, “Are you prepared to make a commitment to eradicate homelessness? More than half of your electorate cares about this. Do you?”

Give it a go. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.