Worried about health? It’s a matter of class

Working class people have poorer health than the rich—and things are only getting worse, according to a new report.

Researchers at the Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy at Victoria University say: “Low socioeconomic status is a major risk factor for chronic disease and premature death.”

Their report blows the idea that “we’re all in it together” out of the water, confirming that class divides Australia and helps determine how people live and when they die.

The Mitchell Institute has tracked outcomes across a range of health factors, comparing outcomes between the early 2010s and later in the decade.

On almost every count, life has got worse for the poorest—and the latest figures were compiled before the explosion of stress and trauma caused by the pandemic.

The rate of premature death is more than twice as high for the poorest 20 per cent of the population as the richest 20 per cent and the gap has widened between 2010-14 and 2014-18.

Other indicators are just as shocking. The poorest 20 per cent of Australians, compared to the wealthiest 20 per cent are:

  • almost three times more likely to smoke
  • 57 per cent more likely to be obese
  • twice as likely to have diabetes
  • 80 per cent more likely to die by suicide
  • twice as likely to be unemployed if they suffer a mental illness
  • more than twice as likely to have coronary heart disease.

The overall picture is confirmed by another new report, which finds a clear link between poverty and incidents of mental distress.

Researchers at the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the University of NSW say that people under 65 whose main source of income is government income support are 50 per cent more likely to report mental health issues than those with salary or wages (18 per cent).

They add: “People who are without paid work are almost twice as likely to report mental health issues than people who work full time.

“People with higher incomes (60 per cent) are more likely to report good health, while people with lower incomes are less likely to report good health (32 per cent).”

This evidence adds urgency to the demand to raise benefits including JobSeeker to a minimum of $80 a day.

During last year’s long second wave of COVID, the doubling of JobSeeker took many people out of poverty for the first time.

We need to campaign to make such an increase permanent while also demanding an end to evictions and guaranteed safe housing for the homeless.

The two new reports show that fighting poverty and low wages isn’t a luxury—for some workers it’s literally a matter of life or death.

By David Glanz

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