Shocks and safety nets: Financial wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis

Authors: Emily Porter and Dina Bowman (Brotherhood of St Laurence)

Our paper explores the financial impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on vulnerable Australians, identifying the social structures that helped or hindered them during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

We use ANZ’s Financial Wellbeing Indicator, which draws on multiple questions in the continuous Roy Morgan Single Source survey. The Indicator brings together three dimensions based on Kempson and colleagues’ (2017) model of financial wellbeing. These include the ability to meet everyday commitments, feeling comfortable about one’s financial situation and resilience to financial shocks.

For most people, the COVID crisis led to a decline in financial wellbeing, driven by a sharp fall in the Feeling Comfortable dimension. People with low incomes, particularly those in the workforce, faced more serious declines. For example, low-income workers showed a 21% decline in ability to Meet Commitments from the pre-COVID period to the September 2020 quarter.

On the other hand, COVID-19 responses made it easier for those relying on income support to buy essentials and pay bills on time:

  • While Meeting Commitments scores fell for low-income workers scores for households that relied on income support payments c actually improved in the COVID period.
  • Unemployed workers who were likely to have access to JobSeeker Payments reported a 10% improvement in ability to meet commitments during the COVID period, as did single parents and disability support pensioners who were not in employment.

Some financial impacts of the COVID-19 crisis will be long-term:

  • Many vulnerable groups in employment reported declines in financial resilience during the COVID period as work hours fell, forcing many to draw down their savings. These included workers in the lowest income quintile and those relying on disability support pensions.
  • The proportion of low income women with superannuation declined by 6 percentage points. Single parents not in employment showed an even larger 10 percentage points decline.

Our findings suggest that harmful impacts from the crisis were less severe where people had access to government support as well as their own savings or other resources.

Real, widespread recovery will require not only adequate social security that allows resilience but also investment in full employment and social infrastructure such as affordable housing.

This report is part of the Financial Lives in Uncertain Times project. The research was made possible by the generous support of ANZ through the ANZ Tony Nicholson Fellowship and the provision under licence of Roy Morgan Single Source Survey data.

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