• August 17, 2021

It is the rich who complain and the poor get infected

The Mitchell Institute at the University of Victoria just issued the second edition from your “socioeconomic status health tracker.” It finds that the 10 million Australians who live in the 40 percent of communities with the lowest and lowest socioeconomic status have much higher rates of preventable cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease than others in the population.

So why should it surprise us to learn that while the Delta bypass outbreak in Sydney appears to have started in the wealthier eastern suburbs, it soon migrated to the Southwest, where it finds much more business?

Last week, the highest welfare body, the Australian Council for Social Service, issued a joint report Investigation report in Inequality in work, income and health, with academics from the University of New South Wales.

COVID-19 testing at Fairfield Showgrounds when the Southwest closed.Credit:Kate geraghty

The head of ACOSS, Dr. Cassandra Goldie, says that “the pandemic has exposed the stark inequalities that affect our health across the country. People with the lowest incomes and insecure jobs and homes have been most at risk during the COVID crisis. Now, they are the same people who run the risk of missing the launch of the vaccine ”.

Then there is the issue of trust. Social trust works through social norms of behavior, such as a willingness to cooperate with strangers and a willingness to follow government rules. As in other rich countries, our trust in governments has declined over the years. Last year seemed to improve as many of us believed that we could rely on our leaders, especially prime ministers, to save us from the pandemic.


If that confidence survives this year’s missteps, we’ll have to see. But economic historian Dr. Tony Ward of the University of Melbourne, remind us of a significant find this year World Report on HappinessIn general, the higher the level of social trust in a country, the lower its death rate from COVID-19.

Stay with me. An experiment by American behavioral economist Alain Cohn and his colleagues in Switzerland involved “losing” 17,000 wallets in 355 cities in 40 countries and seeing how many of them were returned to their alleged owners.

The wallet’s rate of return was around 80 percent in Scandinavia and New Zealand, just under 70 percent in Australia, less than 60 percent in the United States, and less than 30 percent in Mexico.

Ward did his own study and found that two-thirds of the difference between countries could be explained by their degree of income inequality. The greater the inequality, the less confidence. When you added survey data on people’s perceptions of corruption, your apparent ability to explain differences in trust increased from 68% to 82%.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her cohorts tell us that the virus is wreaking havoc on certain “troubling LGAs” because people are not doing what they were asked to do. Perhaps their lack of cooperation reflects a lack of confidence in the benevolence of those higher up the income ladder. Inequality is not without its problems.

Ross Gittins is the economics editor.

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