The health costs of financial hardship and inequality – on the increase as the cost of living skyrockets – constitute a public health crisis, according to academics.
The health costs of economic disadvantage are “startling”, said researchers from the School of Public Health, University of Sydney.
A 2021 Australian Burden of Disease study found the most disadvantaged 20 per cent of Australians die four to six years earlier than the least disadvantaged.
One-fifth of the country’s ill-health would be avoided if everyone enjoyed the same socioeconomic circumstances as the top 20 per cent.
People in poorer socioeconomic circumstances do worse across almost all health measures. This includes life expectancy, non-communicable diseases (such as heart disease, diabetes), injuries and, as the COVID pandemic has revealed, infectious diseases.
The health burden of intimate partner violence is two-and-a-half times higher in the poorest 20 per cent compared with the most advantaged 20 per cent of households.
The researchers said Australia’s response to the COVID pandemic shows it is possible to mobilise resources and political will in the face of a public health crisis.
“There is plenty of scope to improve this inequality by lifting benefit levels to keep Australians out of poverty. (It) requires a collective commitment to ‘levelling up’ society,” they wrote in The Conversation.