Two years on since Victoria marked the beginning of its first pandemic lockdown, a landmark national poll has revealed Ballarat voters to be among some of the most concerned people in the country about mental health.
The survey of more than 15,000 Australians from all demographics across the 151 federal seats - undertaken by PureProfile on behalf of the Salvation Army - found mental health concerns weigh heavily on the minds of close to 60 per cent of voters in the federal electoral division of Ballarat, who perceive it as the leading social justice problem within the community, followed by housing affordability.
Notably, these results correspond with the findings arrived at by other region-specific surveys undertaken in recent times, which have identified around six in 10 households in Ballarat to be experiencing housing stress.
The remaining top five social justice issues identified by people in Ballarat in the survey were alcohol and drug misuse (47.5 per cent), homelessness (43.6 per cent) and family violence (41.6 per cent).
The particular concern attached to mental health by voters in Ballarat was, as flagged, higher than both the Victorian average (at 56.7 per cent) and the national average (at 53.9 per cent), but may be explained by the mounting cost-of-living pressures and acute social housing shortfall in the region.
As the report notes, an estimated 3100 people in Ballarat - at the time the survey was undertaken - were experiencing homelessness, with a social housing shortfall of at least 500 homes.
That said, the figures in the report probably underestimate the true scale of Ballarat's housing problem, with the current cost-of-living crisis pushing many families to the brink of homelessness every day, according to front-of-line emergency food and housing relief services recently consulted by The Courier.
Not surprisingly, family violence (41.6 per cent) also ranked highly as a social justice problem in the minds of the average Ballarat voter - a result which was consistent with data released from the Magistrates Court of Victoria, revealing some 1500 people were impacted by family violence intervention orders in Ballarat in 2019-2020 alone.
Though the community's concern around family violence was significantly deeper than the national average of 35.4 per cent, the report suggests the discrepancy might, at least in part, owe to increased efforts by government and community groups in recent times to raise awareness around the issue.
The landmark survey - The Salvation Army Social Justice Stocktake - was undertaken with a view to identifying the most prominent social justice issues in the minds of voters in the lead up to the federal election.
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Captain Stuart Glover, the Salvation Army's secretary for mission, said one of the survey's central objectives was to define the parameters around which voters and candidates could engage in a meaningful, community-specific conversation about social justice.
"The Stocktake has several goals, but first and foremost it is designed to help people reflect on social justice and take action on the injustice and hardship they can see," he said. "There is a vocal element in the community that despairs there is not enough being done about the issues and injustices going on around them in their everyday lives.
"They want to be more active in initiating change but feel powerless."
It's a view consistent with one of the most prominent findings of the report - namely, that the average voter in Australia "feels overwhelmed, even hopeless" on the question of what they, individually, can do to help minimise social injustice within their community.
Acknowledging that, the report offers the reader practical, concrete guidance on what can be done on an individual, community, state and national level to address each social justice problem, noting that "every social justice issue can be both addressed and actioned".
On the issue of mental health, for instance, the report recommends the federal government reform the social security system to ensure all people have adequate income support, given the evidence-based link between poor mental health, poverty and housing insecurity.
Other issues canvassed in the survey included poverty, climate change, unemployment, loneliness, racism, gambling, youth unemployment, disability discrimination, Indigenous disadvantage and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
Each electorate averaged 100 responses across all demographics.
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