The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has expressed concern about how the recent Federal Budget measures contribute to growing inequality.
In its submission to the Federal Government's current inquiry into income inequality, the APS has expressed particular concern over the impact of income inequality on specific groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, migrants and refugees, women, and those who are unemployed and under-employed.
Psychologists have long recognised that economic and social circumstances are the foundation of health and wellbeing. Inequality compounds disadvantage, leading to poorer physical and mental health and living circumstances for marginalised groups, and is also linked to negative effects on social stability and health across all levels of society. Emerging evidence also points to the detrimental impact of inequality on economic productivity and growth.
These groups are already vulnerable to living in poverty, and to psychological distress associated with these material living conditions; growing inequality risks further marginalising them by making it more difficult to access health, housing and employment, as well as increasing stigma and diminishing equality of opportunity more generally “People insulated from financial struggle can lose empathy for their fellow citizens', said Heather Gridly, a co-author of the submission, 'while people suffering economic disadvantage can feel excluded and isolated as their ability to participate is reduced.”
The APS considers that fundamental guiding principles for the provision of welfare should begin with clearly articulating the responsibility of government to provide an adequate safety net for those most vulnerable - to decrease the level of income inequality and poverty, and in doing so, to increase the wellbeing of the whole community
The APS believes that the World Health Organisation’s Social Determinants of Health Framework offers a unique opportunity for the development of a whole of government approach to minimising income inequality, and enhancing health and wellbeing. This involves recognising the importance of individual health behaviours as risk factors for health outcomes, improving service access for those who are disadvantaged, but importantly, also addressing the wider social, economic and political factors that drive health behaviours.
The submission argues that it is timely to begin a national conversation about inequality and its impacts in our community. Linking equality of opportunity to Australian values of a ‘fair go for all’, and promoting attitude change about the causes, consequences and solutions to poverty and inequality are a key part of challenging the growing inequalities within Australian society.
Terms of reference for the inquiry by Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs into the ‘Extent of income inequality in Australia’.
The Australian Psychological Society is Australia's largest organisation of non-medical health professionals, representing 21000 members nation-wide.