Hands Across Canberra: Canberra VitalSigns 2021

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Almost half of all children living in Canberra’s single parent families are in poverty (44%).

That’s according to the latest Vital Signs 2021 snapshot of the Canberra community, created by Hands Across Canberra and the Snow Foundation, which has also found that despite The ACT having the highest average weekly earnings in Australia, two out of five Canberrans living in poverty are in wage earning households, and that one in three Canberra adults are vulnerable to financial shocks.

“We have a reputation of being one of the most liveable cities in the country, and there is a strong sense of belonging. Yet we are also one of the most expensive and there is a 38,000 (or 9% of our population) living in poverty, and this is something we need to work on,” Hands Across Canberra CEO Peter Gordon said.

However, the report wasn’t all doom and gloom, with many strengths to celebrate amongst the challenges.

“The large majority of ACT residence find this area, and the broader Canberra region to be highly liveable, and the majority of those from non-English Speaking backgrounds say this place is very welcoming,” Mr Gordon said.

“We have low unemployment, a high level of education and a strong sense of belonging across our community.”

“However, there is much we need to do to ensure that those who experience economic and social disadvantage are not left behind, especially as we begin our recovery from COVID-19, so all can participate in what our community has to offer.”

The report is a follow up from the first Vital Signs 2018, and looks at key indicators across four themes, Health, Education and Employment, Housing and Belonging. These themes were chosen by the Canberra community during the development of the first Vital Signs 2018 report and will be maintained for future reports. Vital Signs 2021 uses a global research methodology, drawing from a range of source data, including the census.

Dr Emma Campbell, CEO of the ACT Council of Social Service, said the findings regarding the high cost of living were not a surprise.

“The report provides evidence of increasing numbers of working poor in the ACT. In the past, ACTCOSS’s work has focused on people on income support and other types of disadvantages, as a result of discrimination or barriers to accessing services,” Dr Campbell said.

“We now frequently find ourselves including many full-time workers in the cohort of people we represent. The dramatic increases in cost of living means that many people in full-time work find themselves in rental stress and unable to cover the basics such as utilities, food, healthcare, education and transport.”

The report found Canberra to be one of the most expensive cities in Australia to rent. It found high rates of rental stress for low-income earners, with limited rental vacancies, despite an increase in people renting from 30% to 34%. Home ownership was also down, from 30 % to 25 % with the median house price reaching $1m.

Also of concern in the report is the growing level of outreach to domestic violence, sexual assault and other crisis support services, particularly during the pandemic, as well as increased poor mental health outcomes and high rates of self-harm, especially amongst young Canberrans.

Dr Justin Baker, CEO of the Youth Coalition of the ACT said the experience of multiple COVID lockdowns have been especially hard on young people in Canberra.

“COVID has robbed our young people of the activities that bring them joy and connection. Education, socialising, job prospects, their very ability to get out and about and be with each other has been impacted. Due to this and more, we are seeing increased use of crisis services,” Dr Baker said.

“So it’s no surprise they are experiencing high levels of mental distress, due to these social determinants. I know it’s particularly difficult for our young LGBTIQ community in the ACT.”

Ms Georgina Byron, from the Snow Foundation, said the report was an important snapshot into the lives of people in Canberra, uncovering truths that can often be hidden behind closed doors.

“This is a very important report for our local region. It provides researchers, policy makers, and service providers, with guidance on what we should be focussed on, to make this city and region a place for everyone. It helps us recognise the areas we should be proud of, while also highlighting those we must work on,” CEO of the Snow Foundation, Ms Byron said.

“It’s also important to note that this report was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to this, much of the source data will have been impacted, and as such, some of our findings could be also have been impacted.

“We do know that COVID has been a factor in increased calls to crisis support lines, however, this doesn’t change the underlining problem of domestic violence, sexual assault, self-harm. We hope this report catalyses on the vital conversations we need to have that will help make this city an even better place to live.”

The Vital Signs 2021 report is available for download HERE.

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