Our identity as a tolerant nation, where everyone, irrespective of faith, ethnicity, or country of origin ‘is given a fair go’ is central to many Australians. Are we as tolerant as we would wish to believe and what factors determine our social cohesion?
The Report from the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute
The Scanlon Foundation Research Institute’s mission is to build ‘a bridge between academic insight and public thought to support the advancement of Australia as a welcoming, prosperous and cohesive nation’. The organization has been mapping social cohesion since 2007 and is the only comprehensive survey of the population of its kind, with a specific focus on the transition of migrants. It explores questions about multiculturalism, migration, financial security, happiness and trust in government and other people. The 2023 report, authored by Dr James O’Donnell from the ANU, is the seventeenth annual survey, with 7,500 participants across the country. It reflects the changes the world has experienced following the pandemic.
Australians reporting they are satisfied or very satisfied with their financial circumstances has dropped in the last three years with one in ten struggling to pay rent or their mortgage sometimes or often in the past year, while one in five sometimes or often found it difficult to afford health care. Financial distress and concern over inequality between rich and poor means those who are less advantaged feel less sense of belonging to Australia and more pessimistic for the country’s future.
Do We Feel We Belong?
Sadly, a sense of belonging and pride has continued to drop to an all-time low, with 48% of the respondents feeling a ‘great sense of belonging’ while only 33% took ‘great pride’ in Australia’s culture and way of life.
Do We Trust?
Declining pride and a sense of having a place in the country coincides with a decline in trust in the Federal government with 36% of respondents believing our government does the right thing by its constituents ‘all or most of the time’. Almost one in three people believe our leaders abuse their power ‘most or all of the time’.
Despite this, support for immigration and multi-culturalism remains strong with 86% saying that they believe immigrants are good for the economy and 89% believing multiculturalism positive for Australia.
Another reassuring finding is that four out of five people feel they belong in their community and 64% believe their neighborhood has a strong sense of community.
The author concludes ’In 2023 we have seen higher levels of financial stress and concern for economic inequalities and fairness, less trust in government, and a weaker sense of national pride and belonging. In spite of these challenges, we continue to recognize and celebrate our ethnic and cultural diversity; we remain strongly connected in our neighborhoods; and we remain engaged in our democracy’.
And for Practitioners?
Families do not live in a vacuum, and we know that wider social stressors like financial hardship and fear of the future contribute to higher incidence of violence, abuse, depression, anxiety, and poorer overall family functioning. We also know that strong cohesive communities are a significant protective factor. The boundary around a family’s symptoms does not stop at the front door. Recognition of the importance of these variables in both our assessment and intervention processes is crucial for ethical and effective practice.
O’Donnell, J. (2023) Mapping Social Cohesion Scanlon Institute