Australia’s social progress ranking steady but challenges remain
8 November 2021 at 5:12 pm
The 2021 Global Social Progress Index ranked Australia 11th out of 168 countries
Australia remains among the top performing nations when it comes to achieving social progress, but is struggling in areas such as equal access to quality healthcare and housing affordability.
The 2021 Global Social Progress Index rated nations across 52 social and environmental indicators, with Australia ranking 11th overall out of 168 countries.
This places Australia above nations such as New Zealand (12), the UK (18) and the US (24), but below countries including Canada (6) and Japan (9). Norway topped the index.
The index also rated Australia’s over and underperformance relative to 15 countries of similar GDP per capita such as Canada, Finland, Belgium, France, and New Zealand.
Australia overperformed most on the level of perceived criminality and expected use of tertiary education.
But the nation underperformed in several areas including dissatisfaction with housing affordability, the proportion of internet users and equal access to quality healthcare.
Centre for Social Impact (CSI) senior research fellow Dr Megan Weier told Pro Bono News she thought Australia was “doing okay” on social progress, with Australia’s index ranking hovering around the same mark as 2020 (8) and 2019 (12).
But Weier, who is lead researcher for the Australian Social Progress Index (ASPI), said there were not many indicators in which Australia was performing better than its relative 15 countries.
“What is concerning when we’re looking at a scorecard is the number of red dots that we’re seeing, which indicates [underperformance] and shows there’s a lot of equity issues here,” Weier said.
“And this particularly impacts people who are from marginalised backgrounds.
“It is apparent for things like health care and has really been demonstrated throughout COVID, where unequal access [has been harmful] for culturally and linguistically diverse communities and First Nations people for example.”
Weier said when governments talked about achieving progress, they often related it to GDP and the economy.
She said this is especially apparent in the context of COVID, where the focus has been on opening up the country safely and helping local businesses bounce back from the economic impact of lockdowns.
But she believes focusing more on social progress measures would be beneficial to Australia’s economic recovery.
“If we’re giving people secure employment conditions, adequate access to safe and affordable housing, that [could] enable them to participate more in the economy,” she said.
“That link between the economy and how it is that people that live within Australia contribute to the economy isn’t talked about as much as it should be.
“Because if you’re wanting people to contribute to an economy, you need to be able to create safe and secure social circumstances for people to live in.”
Australia rated poorly in the index on species protection and Weier said given the importance of climate action, working to improve this was important.
Another area Australia lagged in was equality of political power by socioeconomic position.
Weier said the fact people in lower socioeconomic brackets were less represented in political power was deeply concerning, and should be a key focus going forward.
“Governments should be paying attention to the voices that currently aren’t being included in decision making,” she said.
“And I think that is a really key component because [improving this will provide] suggestions on how changes can be made to improve things like access to quality health care and education.”
You can find out more about the 2021 Global Social Progress Index here.