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The last 15 years have seen increasing prosperity, but it is important to ask whether this has been shared and whether life has actually become better for most Australians, says a flagship report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Australia's welfare 2007, marks 15 years since the AIHW began reporting on the nation's welfare.
It shows that median weekly disposable household income rose by 34% in the 10 years from 1995-96.
'This does not automatically translate into a guarantee of wellbeing for all members of society', said AIHW Director Dr Penny Allbon.
'Australia is a very diverse society, from diverse backgrounds and with diverse needs, as our report shows.'
'There are some universal needs such as having a home. It has important social, emotional, and health benefits, as well as economic benefits for everyone. But housing stress is becoming more common and it is now harder to own a home-outright home ownership levels are down, and it takes longer to pay off home mortgages.'
'For as many as 100,000 people in Australia, homelessness is a problem. The most common reason given by homeless people seeking assistance is interpersonal relationships, including domestic violence and relationship breakdown and conflict, and the need for time-out from family', Dr Allbon said.
Indigenous Australians in particular suffer from higher levels of sub-standard housing, overcrowding and homelessness.
Dr Allbon said that the Australia's Welfare report described the wellbeing of Indigenous people wherever possible.
'It is important to note there have been improvements in recent years-for example in school enrolments, mainstream employment, and the number of Indigenous home owners and mortgagees.
'But retention rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (40%) were just over half that of non-Indigenous students (76%) in 2006. And Indigenous students were also substantially less likely to meet national benchmarks in reading, writing and numeracy.'
Labour force participation among the Indigenous population is 59% compared with 78% for the non-Indigenous population, and Indigenous children are over-represented in child protection arrangements or juvenile justice supervision.
Dr Diane Gibson, Head of the AIHW's Welfare and Housing Group, said that families and children (covered in the report) are increasingly being recognised by governments as a core policy area. The fertility rate may now be rising after many years of falls, and children under 15 comprise 20% of the population.
'But a considerable number of children are subject to violence and abuse', Dr Gibson said. 'Between 2002 and 2006 the number of children on care and protection orders rose by 32%, from 20,557 to 27,188.
'Some of this can be explained by greater community awareness of child abuse and neglect, and the cumulative effect of children who enter the system at a young age and remain there for some years. But it's not the entire explanation.'
'There have been many changes to the family environment in the last 15 years. With most parents working or studying almost half of children under 12 use some form of child care, and 84% of 4-year-olds either used formal child care or were attending preschools in 2005', she said.
At the other end of the population spectrum are Australians 65 years and older-13% of the population in 2006.
Australia's Welfare reports that most older people (94%) live in their own homes, and only 6% live in non-private dwellings such as nursing homes and hospitals. In 2006, there were 145,000 older people in residential aged care.
The report shows that older people's levels of social and community participation are important for good quality of life, and that community-based services and care have an important role in providing social support and companionship.
'With the ageing of the Australian population, more people are living more years with a disability, and the number of people with severe or profound activity limitations is projected to grow significantly in the years ahead,' Dr Gibson said.
Another segment of the population examined in Australia's welfare 2007 is 'younger' people with disability-people aged under 65 years.
There are around 1.2 million people with disability in Australia who need help or supervision with self-care, mobility or communication-and 678,000 of them are aged under 65. Approximately 27,500 of these under-65s with a severe or profound disability had unmet or under-met demands for accommodation, respite services, or community access services.
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