Despite signs of recovery, there are challenges to reclaim many of the activities that support wellbeing, economic security and economic growth. The normalisation of sectors such as arts and culture, tourism, hospitality, sports and events will underpin social connections. The needs of younger people will require a focus on jobs and training, the needs of older people and other vulnerable people will require a focus on health and community services for the aged.
Minimising the negative effects of the pandemic will be critical in supporting the wellbeing of the people of Greater Sydney.
The temporary and permanent closure of businesses, the loss of jobs and the number of people receiving the JobKeeper Payment are having wide-ranging impacts. The impacts are being felt by some groups more severely than others (refer to Figure 1).
There are higher rates of workplace casualisation and, consequently, much higher rates of unemployment and underemployment among people aged under 25, as young people are more likely to work in sectors such as hospitality that are more exposed to the pandemic.
Greater Sydney’s youth unemployment rate rose to 11.7 per cent in August 2020 compared with 9.5 per cent per cent a year earlier37, and already much higher than the overall average. Young people also have less money saved, on average, making them less prepared for sudden changes or emergencies.
Figure 1: NSW Unemployment, Youth Unemployment and Underemployment38
Similarly, women are facing greater impacts than men during the pandemic. The higher proportion of women in part-time employment (about 40 per cent of women across Greater Sydney compared with 20 per cent of men) makes them more vulnerable to the economic shock of the pandemic40. This is further backed up by evidence that women with fewer skills are likely to suffer the most in a recession41.
Longer standing issues that disproportionately affect Aboriginal people such as higher youth unemployment and lower standards of living are also exacerbated by the pandemic.
Lifestyle impacts and health
During initial lockdowns, restrictions meant many people could not engage in normal their usual recreation activities. This included 29 per cent of adults aged 18 and over who participate in sports through a sports or recreation club and the two-thirds of people 18 and over who participate in organised sport or attend a gym42. Gyms, fitness classes, community sport have recommenced but are still subject to physical distancing, hygiene and COVID-safe restrictions.
Young people aged between 16-25 face a combination of issues. The Commission’s Youth Panel provided first-hand insights into the social impacts of remote learning, the postponement of tutorials or practical lessons and the limited opportunities for informal interactions. Restrictions on team sports have also disproportionately affected young people, who are more likely to belong to a sports club than older people. For example, in NSW, more than 50 per cent of those aged 15 to 17 years and more than a third of those aged 18-24 belonged to a sports club in 2019, compared with just over 20 per cent of people aged 25 to 5443.
For Aboriginal people important cultural events and activities such as Sorry Day and NAIDOC week were postponed or celebrated differently. Restrictions on movement both within and outside Greater Sydney have prevented access to Country and limited the ability to fulfil cultural obligations.
Other groups who are more vulnerable than the general population include the elderly, a higher proportion of whom live alone. For many, restrictions have led to greater isolation and loneliness. Elderly people have lower levels of digital literacy, making it harder for them to virtually access family and friends and services such as shopping deliveries, telehealth and banking.
Further, people who rely on government services, including those provided by councils such as community meal delivery and access to the internet in local libraries, were impacted during tighter restrictions.
A mid-April survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that compared with 2017-18, more Australians felt restless or fidgety (up from 24 per cent to 42 per cent), felt nervous at least some of the time (up from 20 per cent to 35 per cent) or felt everything was an effort at least some of the time (up from 22 per cent to 26 per cent)44.
Learning and working at home
Between March 2020 and May 2020, 95 per cent of students attended school virtually45, with support from the NSW Department of Education. This presented challenges such as the issuing of SIM cards and laptops to students to enable virtual learning, and the ability of parents and carers to juggle home schooling with their own work priorities.
Analysis by the Grattan Institute suggests that working from home while supervising children in remote learning had a negative impact on productivity, with paid hours worked among NSW families estimated to have contracted by almost 25 percent46. The return to normal rates of face-to-face learning has both improved students’ welfare and the economic productivity of parents and carers.
For many people studying and working from home presents challenges as some home environments are not well suited. These include the need for dedicated workspaces to lessen the impacts on the household. This period emphasises the importance of:
- safe and secure housing
- well-designed housing and multifunctional spaces
- good digital connectivity.
People’s involvement in the community, mental health and social connections are important in shaping a city that is resilient to future shocks and stresses. This includes consideration of intergenerational impacts, wider social and environmental impacts of policy and the quality of economic responses. The challenges for young people and elderly are particularly acute highlighting a need to enable social connections, and to focus on jobs and training for youth, and health and community services for the aged.