Domain 3 – Adequate standard of living
Standard of living refers to the level of wealth, comfort, material goods and necessities available to people.
Our standard of living is affected by factors such as availability of employment, equality of income, affordability of housing, and financial security. The right to an adequate standard of living is recognised as a human right in international human rights instruments. This means people should have a minimum entitlement to food, clothing and housing at an adequate level.
This section looks at how Queenslanders are faring in terms of their standard of living.
Electricity disconnections due to non-payment have been increasing
Electricity disconnections are an indicator of extreme financial stress. In recent years, the rate at which Queenslanders are being disconnected has risen. The disconnection rate tends to increase soon after a sudden step change in the price of electricity – a ‘bill shock’ effect.
Since 2006-07 Queensland’s electricity prices have increased in real terms by 87 per cent.42 Queensland was the only jurisdiction in Australia in 2014-15 to record an increase in electricity prices.43
Figure 14: Electricity disconnections due to non-payment, Queensland, 2013-2015
Source: QCA Small Electricity Customer Disconnection, Hardship and Complaints Statistics, quarterly reports 2013-2015
Electricity is an essential service for all Queenslanders. Access to electricity that is affordable and reliable is vital to our health, wellbeing and quality of life. Having the power cut off because you are unable to afford your energy bills has compounding effects for a vulnerable energy consumer. The impacts are more than just financial, they are also emotional and psychological and have additional impacts on health and safety. Recent research on the impact of disconnections found that:
Family households are the most common type of household reporting disconnection
Almost one-third of those disconnected reported having a mental illness
Around one in three respondents had no contact with their retailer prior to disconnection.44
Young Queenslanders are twice as likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population
Since September 2007, unemployment has crept up in Queensland from 3.7 per cent to an average figure of 6.3 per cent for the 2015 calendar year. This current employment figure is the second highest in the country.45
In Queensland, people aged 15 to 24 have by far the highest unemployment rate of any age group at 13.2 per cent in December 2015. Cairns and Wide Bay are two of Australia’s youth unemployment hotspots with more than 20 per cent of 15 to 24 year olds being unemployed in these regions in December 2015. In outback Queensland the proportion of youth unemployment exceeds 25 per cent.46 Considering the definition of employed is having more than one hour of work a week, these figures are disturbing.
Figure 15: Proportion of unemployed individuals (12 month average trend rate), Queensland
Source: ABS 6202.0 - Labour Force, Australia, Dec 2015
Employment improves financial security, self-esteem and social engagement.47 Unemployment can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. It affects not just the unemployed person but also family members and the wider community. The impact of unemployment can be long-lasting. As unemployment becomes more long-term, its impact becomes more far reaching, often affecting living standards in retirement. The loss of income by parents can damage the prospects of the next generation.48 Unemployment can indirectly affect housing security and health because of reduced participation in society or from the impacts of financial strain.49
One in five young people are not fully engaged in education or work
In 2015, 81.4 per cent of Queensland young people aged 15 to 19 were ‘fully engaged’ (that is either studying or working full-time or studying and working part-time).50
Queensland performs the worst in the country in terms of having young people fully engaged in education or work. In the Australian Capital Territory 94 per cent of young people were fully engaged and in South Australia 89 per cent were fully engaged.51
The proportion of young people aged 15 to19 not fully engaged has fluctuated a little over the past decade but has never reached the levels of the better performing jurisdictions.
Figure 16: Proportion of young people aged 15-19 who were fully engaged 2005-2015, Queensland
Source: ABS 6227.0 Education and Work Australia, May 2015
Research suggests that young people, who are not fully engaged in education, work or a combination of both, are at greater risk of unemployment, cycles of low pay and employment insecurity in the longer term. Participation in education and training and engaging in work are also important aspects of developing individual capability and building a socially inclusive society.52
Lack of participation can lead to feelings of worthlessness, anxiety and depression, substance abuse, anti-social behaviour and criminal activity. Under-employment is higher for young people, women and single parents
Under-employed workers are those who want, and are available for, more hours of work than they currently have. Under-employment is relatively high in Queensland (8.9 per cent in December 2015 compared to 5.5 per cent nationally) and has been rising steadily over the past 35 years due to the casualisation of the workforce, with only a slight respite during the mining boom in the mid-2000s.
Women are more affected by under-employment than men. In the 12 months to December 2015, the under-employment rate for females was 10.7 per cent compared to just 6.9 per cent for males.
Figure 17: Proportion of employed individuals who are under-employed, Queensland
Source: ABS 6202.0 - Labour Force, Australia, Dec 2015
While being employed is important, it is also critical that individuals and households have access to an adequate amount of work. People facing poverty and disadvantage are often employed in jobs that do not provide adequate security, are low paid or have limited hours of employment. Under-employment can make it difficult to secure decent and appropriate housing and other essentials.53 Under-employment has also been shown to be negatively related to wellbeing across a number of outcomes including reduced mental health and increased anxiety.54 Queensland women earn 18 per cent less than men and the gap has increased in the longer term
The gender pay gap is the difference in income earning capacity between men and women. In May 2015, Queensland’s gender pay gap was 18 per cent, despite women gaining more tertiary qualifications than men. Western Australia and New South Wales have higher gender pay gaps, whereas in the rest of the country it is much lower.55 While the gap declined over the most recent period, in Queensland (and nationally) there appears to be a long-term trend towards an increasing pay gap between men and women.
The most pronounced difference in average weekly earnings for males and females with the same level of qualification was for those workers with a Certificate III or IV, with females’ average weekly earnings being only 54.2 per cent of those for males with this type of qualification.56
Figure 18: Percentage difference between average weekly earnings for males and females (full time, adult, ordinary time earnings), Queensland
Source: ABS 6302.0 - Average Weekly Earnings, May 2015
The pay gap is influenced by stereotypes about suitable work, the capacity of different industries and occupations to attract higher or lower wages, the role of women in providing the majority of unpaid caring work as well as direct and indirect discrimination.57 This not only impacts on the ability of women to meet current living costs but also on their ability to gain wealth, such as home ownership and superannuation, to sustain them in later life.
As women are the majority of single parents the gender pay gap further reduces their capacity to adequately provide for their children. Queenslanders, particularly one parent families, are experiencing more financial stress
A key indicator of financial stress is the inability to raise $2,000 within a week for something important. In 2010, 15 per cent of Queenslanders said they could not raise $2,000 in a week for this reason. This was the highest proportion in Australia. Almost 60 per cent of people living in public housing were in this situation, as were 84 per cent of one-parent families in jobless households. This situation has become worse for most groups, but particularly so for one-parent families in jobless households.
Figure 19: Proportion of the population unable to raise $2,000 in a week for something important, Queensland
Source: ABS 4159.0.55.003 - General Social Survey: States and Territories, 2010
Thirty per cent of households in Australia with the lowest incomes were servicing a debt that was three or more times their annual disposable income. This increased from 22.4 per cent of low income households with this level of indebtedness in 2003-04. These households are at high risk of experiencing economic hardship if they experience a financial shock.58
The number of electricity disconnections in Queensland due to non-payment increased by 37 per cent between 2012 and 2014. For pensioners and concession card holders, disconnections increased by 42 per cent during this period.59 Electricity and gas are big expenses for low income earners. In 2012, the bottom 20 per cent of income earners in Australia spent 13 per cent of gross household income on energy while those in the top income bracket spent only 3 per cent. The average for Queensland was 5.2 per cent.60Low-income households spend nearly a third of their income on housing
Queensland households on average spent 15 per cent of their gross weekly income on housing costs (rents, rates and mortgages) in 2013-14.
The proportion of income being spent on housing by low income households and one parent families has grown over the last decade, while the proportion spent by high income households and couple families has remained stable or declined.
Figure 20: Housing costs as a proportion of gross household income by selected household characteristics, Queensland
Source: ABS 4130.0 - Housing Occupancy and Costs, 2013-14
Households that spend a large proportion of their income on housing have less money for other essential items, such as food, energy and healthcare. When housing costs are high as a proportion of income, households may be forced to reduce their spending on other goods and services to meet these costs.61 The constant stress associated with a lack of money has been found to contribute to health problems and stress on family relationships as well as financial hardship outcomes such as children missing out on school activities and adequate health care.62
Low income households are more likely to be renting and as their housing costs increase their long term capacity to achieve home ownership decreases, thus trapping them in intergenerational poverty. Questions for discussion about improving our standard of living
Why are young people unable to secure casual or part-time work and what can be done about it?
What extra supports can be put in place to protect one-parent families from poverty?
What is the breadth of impact that high housing costs have on individuals and the community? What innovative and sustainable strategies are available to improve access to affordable housing?
Page / April 2016
Queensland’s wellbeing 2016: Domain 3 – Adequate standard of living