Open Access Government takes time out to examine some interesting health and welfare issues in Australia

For over 30 years, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has sought to “provide stronger evidence (data and information) for better decisions and improved health and welfare”, we discover on the website of this independent statutory Australian Government agency.

AIHW’s role to supply meaningful statistics and information to benefit the people of Australia and improve health and welfare includes the following:

• Manage and collect data on welfare and health topics from state, federal and territory government agencies.
• Maintain, develop and promote statistical information standards for the community services, health and housing assistance sectors.
• Release and analyse various reports and data products concerning crucial policy fields, to support better service and policy delivery decisions.
• Modernise the availability and presentation of national welfare and health products to cater to audiences like universities, research centres, non-government organisations, and various government agencies. (1)

Acute mental health care

Transforming acute mental health care is one good example of how AIHW statistics and information are used to lend a hand to service and policy decisions that ultimately impact the well-being and health of Australia’s inhabitants. (2) Did you know that when Australia’s clinical mental health teams sought to reform potentially harmful and outdated therapeutic practices, they looked to data for help? While restrictive practices (restraint and seclusion) have been employed in acute mental health settings for a long time, concerns expressed by patients, their loved ones and carers “sparked a widespread call for change,” we are told. Dr Leanne Beagley, CEO of Mental Health Australia, comments further: “The delivery of this sort of data to people who are on the ground doing the work completely changes their engagement; it actually drives quality improvement”. (3)

What is welfare?

Let’s take a step back and consider what welfare is. What do you think it is? The well-being of families, individuals and the community? And is welfare mainly government-funded income support payments and welfare services? Plus, are the terms welfare and well-being used interchangeably? (4) The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2015) states that “well-being is multidimensional, covering aspects of life ranging from civic engagement to housing, from household income to work-life-balance, and from skills to health status.” (5)

AIHW also provide a practical explanation of well-being, something they believe results from risk, contextual and protective elements. “It can be influenced by social and economic factors at the individual, family and community level, and each person’s unique circumstances and experiences contributes to their wellbeing equation. Wellbeing can also influence, and be influenced by, a person’s interaction with services and formal and informal supports,” we are told.

Using data for improved welfare

We started this editorial by looking at using data for welfare before taking time out to ponder what welfare/well-being means. While you may have your views on these areas, it is worth considering that AIHW underlines that welfare and well-being data are crucial to learning how many factors interact with and impact an individual’s life. I found the way AIHW explains this point in detail most interesting; I hope you do too.

“These data can help provide a strong evidence base enabling better policies and decision making for improved outcomes for Australians. For example, understanding how individuals engage with and navigate welfare services can help those responsible for planning, implementing, delivering and evaluating policies and programs.”

Boosting health and welfare in Australia

It’s helpful to note that a person’s well-being can be boosted when they get help during their time of need. “Support can come from sources including informal assistance from family, friends and the community, as well as formal assistance from government and non-government organisations,” AIHW add.

While welfare assistance in Australia is complex, universal services such as health and education “interact with and influence a person’s well-being and their need or demand for welfare assistance”. (4) It’s also crucial to add that welfare spending is distinct from health spending because it emphasises income support measures, such as social and economic employment-related services (like unemployment relief). (6)

Concluding health & welfare remarks

When browsing the homepage of AIHW, we can very quickly garner some of the valuable health and welfare data provision taking place. For example, we can read a web report that helps us understand “how clients leave specialist alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment” that “provides insights into how clients and AOD services engage with each other”. One part of the report discovered that between July 2013 and June 2021, “228,500 people sought specialist AOD treatment for either alcohol or amphetamines.” (7)

Another report looks at dementia in Australia, such as up-to-date statistics on disease burden, deaths, expenditure, dementia prevalence, and health and aged care services used among those with dementia. Details about dementia carers are also incorporated. (8) Or read about monthly data concerning the number of clients receiving Specialist Homelessness Services. (9)

We trust that the examples mentioned here will continue contributing to “better decisions and improved health and welfare” (1) in Australia.


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