Australian Social Policy Journal no. 10 - Abstracts

Young Australians and social inclusion

Chris Ryan and Anastasia Sartbayeva
Social Policy Evaluation, Analysis, and Research (SPEAR) Centre, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University


In this paper we look at the relationships between parental and family characteristics, including a history of dependence on income support, on a diverse set of indicators of social inclusion among young Australians. The data contain a large group of young people who might be considered at great risk of social exclusion–young people who grew up in families with extensive experience of living on government-provided income support. We compare a set of social inclusion measures for this group with those for young people from less disadvantaged backgrounds, to gauge how the at-risk group was faring. The employment, education participation and family and community–connectedness measures were all poorer in the at-risk group than the less disadvantaged group. For composite measures of the social inclusion indicators, these differences were partially explained by the relative socioeconomic status of the parents, the characteristics of the family structure, parental decisions to invest in their children and attitudinal variables. However, after controlling for all of these factors, the effect of exposure to income support was not completely eliminated, though the inclusion of schooling experience indicators, such as the incidence of suspensions and expulsions, school attendance patterns and participation in after-school activities, substantially reduced the lasting effect of prolonged income support exposure when growing up.

Keywords: social inclusion; youth; social disadvantage


Which event matters: exploring the relationship between life events, socioeconomic status and psychological distress in mothers of infants

Annemarie Nicol
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs



Psychological distress is an important component of the overall health and wellbeing of individuals. It also represents a risk factor for illnesses such as depression. In mothers, psychological distress has been linked with poorer outcomes, both for the mother and her child. This study explored the relationship between stressful events and psychological distress in mothers of infants. Using 4,247 mothers of infants from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, it was found that certain subpopulations of Australian mothers, such as young mothers, lone mothers and unemployed mothers, were at an increased risk of reporting psychological distress. In addition, mothers with high distress were more likely than mothers with low distress to report experiencing at least one stressful event within the past 12 months. The study also found that although the number of stressful events predicted the likelihood of psychological distress, certain events were more strongly associated with high distress than others. These included relationship separation, work disappointment and financial crisis.

Keywords: stress; life events; psychological distress; socioeconomic status


Perceptions and experiences of cannabis use by young adults living with a mental illness: a qualitative study

Pam Stavropoulos,1 Sharyn McGee2 & Meg Smith3

  1. Independent Researcher and Consultant
  2. Social Justice Social Change Research Group and School of Social Sciences,
    University of Western Sydney (UWS)
  3. Mental Health Association NSW and SJSC Research Group, UWS

Paper based on What works? Report into cannabis use by young adults living with a mental illness (Partners in Mental Health Publishing Consortium and Social Justice Social Change Research Group, University of Western Sydney, 2010)


While studies of cannabis use are numerous, the voices of consumers of cannabis are rarely heard. Even less prevalent are the voices of young people living with a mental illness, whose perceptions, attitudes and experiences are crucial to construction of effective health strategies and campaigns. This paper seeks to enhance understanding of the perceived and experienced links between cannabis use and mental health by young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 years who are living with a mental illness. With reference to insights gained from focus groups comprising members of this cohort, motivations for use and non–use of cannabis are discussed. Reappraisal of cannabis from a relatively safe and 'soft' drug to one that is implicated in psychosis and mental illness renders the experience of this cohort particularly relevant to public policy and debate. To the extent that cannabis can precipitate a predisposition to mental illness—thus catalysing a risk factor that may not be known in advance—it is vital that we know more about the perceptions of young people who are already confronting mental illness and their attitudes to cannabis use. Such knowledge can potentially lead both to more effective health promotion campaigns in relation to this cohort, and more effective engagement of young people in general (where, in the context of cannabis use and mental health, youth itself is a risk factor).

Keywords: cannabis; youth; mental health; psychosis; perceptions; focus groups


Attitudes to homelessness in Australia

Deb Batterham1 , Andrew Hollows2 and Violet Kolar1

  1. Hanover Welfare Services
  2. Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, formerly Hanover Welfare Services


There has been very little research to date investigating attitudes to homelessness in Australia. Such research is important as public opinion can influence both political will to act and the viability of different policy responses. Attitudes also shape the way the community responds to those who are disadvantaged.

Using data collected through the 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes on homelessness, this study investigated attitudes of the Australian community about the perceived causes of homelessness and responsibility for addressing it.

Exploratory principal component analysis revealed an underlying structure to participants' responses. Three components or response patterns emerged, with participants viewing homelessness as a problem: with external causes requiring government solutions; of collective responsibility; with individual causes, where individuals and their families are responsible for resolution. This finding is consistent with some studies from the United States and United Kingdom that show that attitudes to homelessness are complex and do not necessarily align with the structural/individual dichotomy in a straightforward way.

Demographic factors such as age, sex, class, educational attainment and political affiliation were explored as predictors of attitudes. While some significant relationships were found, multiple regression analysis revealed that these factors explained very little of the overall variance in attitudes to homelessness. This has implications for public opinion research on homelessness, which has focused largely on demographic attributes as predictors of attitudes.

Keywords: attitudes; homelessness; predictors; cause; responsibility


Further disadvantage: the effect of stigma in discouraging use of concession cards

David Baker
Research Fellow, The Australia Institute



Concession cards provide access to a range of welfare benefits additional to income support payments. While concession cards constitute an important means of accessing support, their efficacy is dependent upon cardholders using their cards. There are many questions relating to the determinants of card use and the realised value of these benefits. For example, are decisions about when and how to use cards influenced by people's experiences of stigma, their perceptions of the benefits received or their awareness of the concessions available? The purpose of this paper is to take a closer look at the role of stigma in discouraging card use and the value of benefits people may be forgoing.

In order to do this, an online survey was conducted that asked concession cardholders about rates of card use and reasons for use or non-use, their awareness of available concession benefits and the estimated value of the benefits received. This paper confirms previous research findings that a lack of awareness is an important factor influencing people's access to benefits to which they are entitled. However, irrespective of awareness levels, there are those who consciously choose not to use their cards because of the stigma they feel society directs at concession card holders. The paper also finds that cardholders are realising only half of the potential savings available to them.

Keywords: concession cards; stigma; missing out; awareness; welfare

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