Revealed: How the rising cost of living is impacting Australian society beyond the hip pocket

Key points
  • The number of Australians who say they have a great sense of national belonging and pride is the lowest it has been in 16 years.
  • Economic issues were seen as the biggest problem facing Australia.
  • There was an increase in the number of people agreeing that ‘accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger.’
Australia has reached “a critical tipping point” in social cohesion, with the cost of living pressures at the front of community concerns, a new survey has found.
The Scanlon Foundation Research Institute in July carried out a wide-ranging survey that put 90 questions about Australia’s social cohesion to almost 5,800 people living and working in Australia.
Topics covered in the 2022 Mapping Social Cohesion Report included immigration, multiculturalism, major issues facing Australia, government and community life.

So how does Australia rate when it comes to social cohesion, and what does the community think?

COVID-19 social cohesion is ‘wearing off’

While last year’s survey recorded a positive spike across several social cohesion indicators over 2020-21 as the Australian community galvanised in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, responses from this year show that the boost has worn off.

The Australian community galvanised in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, but results from the survey show social cohesion is beginning to wane. Source: Getty / Lea Scaddan

Report author James O’Donnell from the Australian National University said it was not unexpected that some indicators of social cohesion were declining as the community and government response to the pandemic was scaled back.

“However, some warning signs in this year’s data suggest a return to pre-pandemic normality is not inevitable,” he said.

“As Australians navigate a difficult economic climate and grapple with new geopolitical challenges, we have reached a critical tipping point where we can either solidify and strengthen social cohesion, or allow it to slide further.”

A chart showing proportion of people who feel a sense of belonging in Australia

The proportion of people who feel a sense of belonging in Australia has fallen in recent years.

Despite a temporary boost during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportions of Australians reporting a great sense of national belonging and pride have been steadily declining over the past 15 years and are now lower than at any point in the 16 years the survey has been carried out.

A total of 52 per cent of respondents said they felt a “great sense of belonging in Australia” in 2022, a 6 per cent decrease from 2021 and 11 per cent from 2020.
At the same time the proportion of people who take “great pride in the Australian way of life and culture” has declined to just 37 per cent.

While national belonging is declining, 82 per cent indicated they felt like they belonged in their neighbourhood and two-thirds said their neighbourhood had a strong sense of community.

Lift in support for diversity

Support for diversity saw a positive lift in the 2022 survey with almost nine out of 10 respondents agreeing immigrants were good for Australia’s economy.
The proportion of people who agreed “accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger” has climbed from 63 per cent in 2018 to 78 per cent.

“In a world in which immigration continues to be a source of social division, our population-wide support for multiculturalism and diversity is a great asset to Australia, potentially insulating us from deeper divisions,” Mr O’Donnell said.

Economic concerns impacting Australian society

Economic issues were the most commonly cited matters facing the country today, according to the survey.
When asked, ”What’s the biggest problem facing Australia today?” 39 per cent of people mentioned matters related to the economy.

More people in 2022 reported being ”dissatisfied” or ”very dissatisfied” with their financial situation since last year, while the combined proportion who described themselves as ”poor, struggling to pay their bills, or just getting along” increased from 31 per cent in 2021 to 37 per cent in 2022.

The proportion of Australians who say they are 'just getting along'

The proportion of Australians who say they are ‘just getting along’ has increased

Mr O’Donnell said the impact of economic uncertainty and cost of living pressures had led to declines across many other indicators of social cohesion in the survey.

“People who are financially struggling and pessimistic about the future report substantially lower levels of national pride and belonging, happiness, and social inclusion,” he said.

“This demonstrates how economic inequalities, exacerbated by the current economic climate, seem to be giving rise to social inequalities that, in turn, drag down overall social cohesion in Australia.”

Shoppers enter an Australian supermarket.

The number of people unsatisfied with their financial situation in Australia is growing. Source: AAP / Rick Rycroft/AP

About three-quarters of those surveyed suggested a global economic downturn and Australia-China relations were among the five biggest global threats to the country.

More than half of respondents also nominated climate change, COVID-19 and military conflict involving Australia.

Society at a ‘crossroads’

Mr O’Donnell said Australian society was at an important crossroads.

“This year’s survey findings demonstrate Australia is not immune to global trends, with concern about social and economic inequalities having a significant impact on social cohesion in Australia in 2022,” he said.

Mr O’Donnell said evidence pointed to the need for community and government efforts to address these inequalities and “seize the wider benefit to social cohesion in doing so”.
“Through such efforts, we can imagine an ever stronger and more cohesive Australia in coming years,” he said.
The survey also provided an indication of the support in the community for establishing an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, a matter which is expected to go to a referendum in the next financial year.

Almost three-in-five were in favour of the general idea, with 19 per cent not in favour and 22 per cent “neutral” on the matter.

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