COVID-19 exposes Australia’s stark health inequalities — and threatens to entrench them further

  • General

Australians, on the whole, are fortunate when it comes to their health.

Generally, people enjoy a high standard of living and access to universal health care, and Australia consistently ranks well on measures such as life expectancy and mortality rates.

But beneath gross measures of health and high OECD rankings lies deeply-entrenched, longstanding inequalities.

The gap in health outcomes between Australia’s rich and poor is substantial, and has been laid bare for all to see over the course of the pandemic.

In NSW, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted lower-income areas in Sydney’s west and south-west, home to the city’s most linguistically and culturally diverse communities.

Here, people are less likely to be able to work from home, more likely to live in overcrowded households, and more likely to face barriers when trying to access health care.

A similar situation was seen in Victoria last year, when an outbreak forced nine high-density public housing towers in Melbourne — with a similarly high concentration of ethnic minority and migrant populations — into a hard lockdown.

Social scientist Julie Leask from the University of Sydney says the fact poorer, more diverse communities are being most impacted by COVID-19 is not by chance, and reflects “deep inequities in society”.

“[The pandemic] is an opportunity for all of the public to see the mechanism by which poverty and social exclusion actually influence health,” she says.