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Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey

Coronavirus impacts on job situation, health services, health precautions, social distancing, household stressors, support network, lifestyle changes

Reference period
29 Apr - 4 May 2020
Released
18/05/2020

Key statistics

  • 46% of working Australians said they were working from home.
  • 94% continued to keep their distance from others outside the household.
  • Loneliness was most widely reported personal stressor due to COVID-19.
  • In the previous four weeks 17% of Australians used a Telehealth service.

Key findings

About this issue

This publication presents results from the third Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, a longitudinal survey which collects information from approximately 1,000 people fortnightly via telephone. The enumeration period for the third cycle was the 29th of April to the 4th of May 2020. The third cycle of the survey collected information on:

  • current job situation;
  • working from home arrangements;
  • use of health services and barriers to accessing health services;
  • precautions taken due to COVID-19;
  • social distancing behaviours;
  • personal and household stressors;
  • ability to receive required support from other people or agencies; and
  • lifestyle changes.
     

The scope of the survey was persons aged 18 years and over in private dwellings across Australia (excluding very remote areas).

About this collection

This collection series is designed to provide a quick snapshot about how Australian households are faring in response to the changing social and economic environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each cycle has collected new information on different topics.

Results from the first Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, released on the 20th of April, are available on the ABS website here.

Results from the second Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, released on the 1st of May, are available on the ABS website here.

At the time of the survey, a range of initiatives had been announced to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and support the economy. These included:

  • introduction of international travel restrictions;
  • the first announcement of an economic stimulus package (12 March);
  • introduction of border control measures for some states and territories;
  • shutting down of non-essential services and the announcement of a second economic stimulus package (22 March);
  • a safety net package of $1.1 billion to expand mental health and tele-health services, increase domestic violence services and provide more emergency food relief (29 March);
  • social distancing rules and additional shutdown restrictions (20 - 30 March);
  • JobKeeper payment announcement (30 March);
  • free childcare for working parents (2 April);
  • legislation passed for the $130 billion JobKeeper payment to keep more Australians in jobs and support businesses affected by the coronavirus (15 April); and
  • restrictions on elective surgery gradually eased from Tuesday 28 April.
     

Proportions marked with an asterisk (*) have a margin of error >10 percentage points which should be considered when using this information. For more information about margin of error refer to the publication explanatory notes.

Job situation and working from home arrangements

Key findings

  • The proportion of Australians aged 18 years and over working paid hours increased from 55.8% in April to 59.0% in May;
  • Nearly half (46%) of all Australians who were working in late-April to early-May said they were working from home; and
  • Women were more likely than men to have been working from home (56% compared with 38%).
     

Job situation

The survey collected information on the current (early May) job status of all respondents, and whether their job situation had changed in the previous two weeks.

The survey is intended to provide a snapshot of the changes being experienced by people in Australia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Respondents were asked simple questions about changes to their job situation, rather than the full suite of employment-related questions included in the ABS’ Labour Force Survey (see Questionnaires Used in the Labour Force Survey, cat. no. 6232.0). The results of this survey are, therefore, not directly comparable to Australia’s official Labour Force measures. The margins of error on these estimates are around seven times greater than Labour Force statistics (given the Labour Force Survey sample is around 50 times larger). More information about measuring the labour market impacts of COVID-19 can be found here.

The table below shows the self-reported job status of Australians aged 18 years and over covering the period early March to early May.

Table 1 - Persons aged 18 years and over, self-reported job status

 Early March (1st survey cycle)Early April (1st survey cycle)Mid-April (2nd survey cycle)Early May (3rd survey cycle)
Has a job66.2%63.4%63.6%64.2%
Working paid hours64.0%55.8%56.6%59.0%
Not working paid hours2.2%7.6%7.0%5.3%
Does not have a paid job(a)33.8%36.6%36.4%35.8%
a. Includes all people without a job and should be considered only a loose approximation for the combined “unemployed” and “not in the labour force” groups. 
 

The survey found that the proportion of people in the panel reporting they had a job had increased by 0.8 percentage points over the month, from the lowest point in the first week of April, up to 64.2%. The proportion of people indicating that they had worked paid hours also increased, by 3.2 percentage points, up to 59.0%. While these increases were not statistically significant, given the margin of error, it may indicate some improvement in labour market conditions.

The next results of the Labour Force Survey, with data in respect of the first two weeks of May, collected over a three-week period from 10 May to 30 May, will be published on Thursday 18 June.

Working from home arrangements

Nearly half (46%) of all Australians who were working in late-April to early-May said they were working from home, with one in six (17%) increasing their number of hours working from home since COVID-19.

Women were more likely than men to have been working from home (56% compared with 38%).

The majority of those who did not work from home said they were unable to due to the type of job they had (89%), rather than other reasons such as their employer not offering the option of working from home, their home situation not being conducive for work, or their home lacking access to the internet and other proper equipment.

Precautions and social distancing

Key findings

In late-April to early-May:

  • The majority of Australians were continuing to keep their distance from people outside the household (94%) and avoid public spaces (85%);
  • Fewer people were purchasing additional household supplies (21%) compared with March (47%);
  • The most common reasons for leaving the household were shopping for food (88%) and exercising or walking pets (73%); and
  • Persons aged 65 years and over were more likely to have had visitors to their household than those aged 18 to 64 (48% compared with 32%).
     

Precautions

Nearly all Australians (96%) took one or more precautions in the previous week due to the spread of COVID-19. These included:

  • Keeping distance from people outside the household (94%);
  • Avoiding public spaces (85%);
  • Disinfecting surfaces before using them (65%);
  • Purchasing additional household supplies (21%); and
  • Wearing a facemask (15%).
     
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Compared with March, fewer people were taking the following precautions in late-April to early-May:

  • Keeping distance from people (98% in March compared with 94% in late April/early May);
  • Purchasing additional household supplies (47% in March compared with 21% in late April/early May); and
  • Purchasing additional medical supplies (29% in March compared with 8% in late April/early May).
     

The proportion of Australians who said they were wearing a face mask remained about the same – 17% in March compared with 15% in late-April to early-May.

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  1. Precautions taken in the previous four weeks
  2. Precautions taken in the previous week.

Social distancing

Nearly all Australians aged 18 years and over said they had left their household in the previous week (97%). The most common reasons for leaving the household included:

  • Shopping for food (88%);
  • Exercising/walking pets (73%);
  • Purchasing items from the chemist or pharmacy (44%);
  • Going to work (40%);
  • Visiting family, friends, or neighbour (27%);
  • Going to a medical appointment (26%); and
  • Providing care or support to another person (20%).
     

Women were more likely than men to have left their household in the previous week to go to a medical appointment (32% compared with 20%) and exercise or walk pets (77% compared with 68%), while men were more likely to have left the house to go to work (48% compared with 33%).

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  1. Excludes paid assistance.

People aged 65 years and over were more likely than those aged 18 to 64 to have left their household in the previous week to go to a medical appointment (33% compared with 24%) and purchase items from the chemist or pharmacy (50% compared with 42%).

People aged 18 to 64 years were more likely than those aged 65 years and over to have left their household for the following reasons:

  • Shop for food (91% compared with 77%);
  • Visit with family, friends, or neighbours (29% compared with 22%); and
  • Provide care or support to another person (22% compared with 13%).
     
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  1. Excludes paid assistance.

Around one in three Australians (35%) said they had visitors to their household in the previous week, with persons aged 65 years and over more likely to do so than those aged 18 to 64 (48% compared with 32%).

Personal and household stressors

Key findings

During the period early-April to early-May:

  • The most commonly experienced personal stressor due to COVID-19 was loneliness, with women almost twice as likely to have felt lonely as men (28% compared with 16%);
  • One in five Australians (19%) experienced problems maintaining a healthy lifestyle due to COVID-19, with persons aged 18 to 64 years twice as likely to have problems maintaining a healthy lifestyle compared with persons aged 65 years and over (22% compared with 9%);
  • One in five Australians (22%) reported that at least one person in their household had experienced one or more employment-related, housing or other financial stressors due to COVID-19;
  • One in eight (13%) Australians who live in a home owned with a mortgage reported that one or more people in their household had difficulty paying the mortgage for their home or an investment property due to COVID-19.
     

Personal stressors

Personal stressors are events or conditions that occur in a person's life that may adversely impact on the individual's or their family's health or wellbeing.

Information was collected on the impact of COVID-19 on people's lifestyles and behaviours during the period early-April to early-May, including whether they:

  • had problems maintaining a healthy lifestyle;
  • had problems managing current health concerns, mental health or chronic conditions;
  • experienced relationship difficulties;
  • were suffering loneliness;
  • had problems with smoking; and
  • had problems with gambling.
     

During this period, two in five Australians (43%) reported experiencing at least one of the above personal stressors due to COVID-19. The most commonly experienced personal stressor was loneliness, reported by one in five Australians (22%).

Other lifestyle and behavioural impacts of the pandemic included:

  • One in five Australians (19%) experienced problems maintaining a healthy lifestyle;
  • One in ten Australians (10%) experienced problems managing current health concerns, mental health or chronic conditions; and
  • One in fourteen Australians (7%) experienced relationship difficulties.
     

Loneliness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle were the two most frequently reported COVID-19-related personal stressors for both men and women.

  • Women were nearly twice as likely to have experienced loneliness as men (28% compared with 16%); and
  • Women were more likely to have had problems managing current health concerns, mental health or chronic conditions than men (13% compared with 7%).
     
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  1. Includes current health problems, mental health or chronic conditions.

Overall, people aged 18 to 64 years were more likely to have experienced one or more personal stressors due to COVID-19 than those aged 65 years and over (46% compared with 32%).

  • People aged 18 to 64 years were over twice as likely to have problems maintaining a healthy lifestyle as those aged 65 years and over (22% compared with 9%).
  • People aged 18 to 64 years were twice as likely to have problems managing current health concerns, mental health or chronic conditions than those aged 65 years and over (11% compared with 5%).
     
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Household stressors

The survey asked people aged 18 years or over whether they or anyone else in their household had experienced employment-related, housing or other financial stressors due to COVID-19 over the period early-April to early-May.

Over this period, around one in five Australians (22%) reported that at least one person in their household had experienced one or more employment-related, housing, or other financial stressors due to COVID-19. This included:

  • One in twenty (6%) who reported that one or more people in their household had involuntarily lost their job;
  • One in twenty (6%) who reported that one or more people in their household were not able to find a job; and
  • One in eight (13%) who live in a home owned with a mortgage who reported that one or more people in their household had difficulty in paying the mortgage for their home or an investment property.

Health service use

Key findings

During the period early-April to early-May:

  • Around one in ten people (11%) had an appointment with a GP or other health professional cancelled or postponed;
  • One in six Australians aged 18 years and over (17%) used a Telehealth service; and
  • One in three people with a mental health condition reported using a Telehealth service (33%*), more than twice that of people without a mental health condition (15%).
     

Health service use

The survey asked respondents if they had experienced difficulty accessing a General Practitioner (GP) or other health professional during the period early-April to early-May, and whether they had used a Telehealth service (consultation done via telephone, video conferencing, or other communication technology).

Cancelled or postponed appointment with GP or other health professional

Around one in ten people (11%) had an appointment with a GP or other health professional cancelled or postponed during the period early-April to early-May.

Telehealth service use

One in six adults (17% or 3.3 million) used a Telehealth service during the period early-April to early-May, with women almost twice as likely as men to have done so (22% compared with 12%).

Persons with a chronic condition or mental health condition were twice as likely as persons without these conditions to have used a Telehealth service during the period early-April to early-May:

  • One in four people (25%) with a chronic condition reported using a Telehealth service, compared with 13% of those without a chronic condition; and
  • One in three people (33%*) with a mental health condition reported using a Telehealth service, compared with 15% of those without a mental health condition.
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  1. Includes self-reported conditions that were diagnosed by a doctor or nurse, which had lasted or were expected to last for 6 months or more.

The main reasons reported for use of Telehealth services were:

  • As a replacement for a previously made face-to-face appointment (43%* or 1.4 million); and
  • For general health advice from a GP or other health professional (41% or 1.4 million).
     
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Unable to see a GP or other health professional in person during the last four weeks

One in fourteen people (7% or 1.4 million adults) said they needed to see a GP or other health professional in person during the period early-April to early-May but were unable to do so.

The proportion of people who needed to see a GP or other health professional in person but were unable to was higher for those with a chronic or mental health condition:

  • 10% of people with a chronic condition compared with 6% of those without; and
  • 14% of people with a mental health condition compared with 7% of those without.
     

The main reason for not being able to see a GP or other health professional in person when needed included:

  • 34%* (489,300) said the appointment was cancelled or deferred indefinitely because of COVID-19;
  • 23%* (327,400) said a Telehealth appointment was the only option available; and
  • 14% (202,200) were isolating due to COVID-19.
     

Of the 1.4 million persons who needed to see a GP or other health professional in person during the period early-April to early-May but were unable to, approximately 35% (508,300) used a Telehealth service.

Lifestyle changes

Key findings

During the period early-April to early-May:

  • One in five Australians (22%) said they were eating more snack foods such as chips, lollies, and biscuits; and
  • Three in five Australians (58%) reported more time spent in front of their television, computer, phone, or other device.
     

Consumption habits

The survey asked respondents if their consumption of selected products had changed over the period early-April to early-May due to COVID-19, and if so, how it had changed. These include:

  • Fruit and vegetables;
  • Take-away or delivered meals;
  • Snack foods;
  • Alcohol; and
  • Vitamins, minerals, or other supplements.
     

One in five Australians (22%) said they were eating more snack foods such as chips, lollies, and biscuits.

A similar proportion of Australians reported an increase in alcohol consumption (14%) and fruit and vegetable consumption (13%), while one in ten (10%) reported taking more vitamins, minerals or other supplements.

The product category that experienced the largest decrease in consumption was take-away or delivered meals, with 29% of Australians reporting less frequent consumption over this period due to COVID-19.

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Activities

The survey also asked respondents if their participation in certain activities had increased, decreased or stayed the same, as a way to cope with COVID-19 restrictions during the period early-April to early-May. These included:

  • Household chores;
  • Time with pets;
  • Exercise of other physical activity;
  • Online shopping/spending;
  • Personal screen time;
  • Hobbies; and
  • Cooking or baking.
     

Changes to personal screen time was the most widely reported change, with three in five Australians (58%) increasing their participation in screen-based activities involving a television, computer, phone, or other device.

Other activities that many Australians increased their participation in during this period include:

  • Household chores, gardening, yard work, projects or renovations (41% increased their participation);
  • Hobbies e.g. art, craft, board games, puzzles, video games or reading (39% increased their participation); and
  • Cooking or baking (38% increased their participation) – including half of women (48%) and around a quarter of men (28%).
     

While roughly half of all Australians (54%) reported no change to their levels of participation in exercise or other physical activity, one in four (25%) increased their level of exercise or other physical activity, and one in five (20%) decreased their level of exercise or other physical activity.

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Support networks

Key findings

During the period early-April to early-May

  • One in ten adults (10%) sought support from others due to COVID-19, including 12% of women and 8% of men; and
  • A family member was the most common source of support for both persons aged 18 to 64 years (68%*) and those aged 65 years and over (73%*).
     

The survey asked respondents if they sought support from others for tasks they would normally do themselves or for other reasons, such as financial help, due to COVID-19. This includes support received from family and friends as well as community organisations and agencies.

Whether sought and received support

During the period early-April to early-May:

  • One in ten adults (10%) sought support from others due to COVID-19, including 12% of women and 8% of men; and
  • Persons aged 65 years and over were three times as likely as those aged 18 to 64 years to seek support from others due to COVID-19 (21% compared with 7%).
     

The majority of adults who sought support over the period early-April to early-May due to COVID-19 were able to get support either all or some of the time (95%). This was a similar result to when people were asked if they could get support from persons living outside their household in times of crisis in 2014 (General Social Survey).

Sources of support

Of those who received support over the period early-April to early-May due to COVID-19, the most common sources of support were:

  • Family member (71%*);
  • Private or public organisation or service (33%*); and
  • Friend or work colleague (17%*).
     

A family member was the most common source of support for both persons aged 18 to 64 years (68%*) and those aged 65 years and over (73%*).

What's next?

The ABS followed up the same survey respondents again on the 12th of May to undertake the fourth cycle of the Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey. The topics covered in the fourth cycle included:

  • current job situation;
  • superannuation;
  • loan repayments;
  • temporary living arrangements;
  • childcare and schooling arrangements;
  • disability; and
  • care and assistance provided.
     

Information from this fourth survey will be released on the 29th of May 2020.

The ABS would like to thank all participants for their involvement in the survey. The information collected is of value to inform government and community responses to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Data downloads

Data item list

Tables 1-12