Dropping off the Edge 2021

Understanding entrenched location-based disadvantage, and the web of challenges these communities face.

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About this research report

For more than 20 years, Jesuit Social Services has collaborated with researchers to examine complex disadvantage in communities around the country. Throughout that time, we have released a series of reports now generally known as Dropping off the Edge. Dropping off the Edge 2021 is the fifth instalment in the series.

Dropping off the Edge 2021 shows clearly that complex and entrenched disadvantage is experienced by a small but persistent number of locations in each state and territory across Australia. As a society we cannot, and should not, turn away from the challenge of persistent and entrenched locational disadvantage, no matter how difficult it may be to solve the problem.

As a society we cannot, and should not, turn away from the challenge of persistent and entrenched locational disadvantage, no matter how difficult it may be to solve the problem.


Dropping off the Edge 2021 provides an unparalleled picture of:
  • Where disadvantage is concentrated
  • How various forms of disadvantage overlap
  • How disadvantage becomes entrenched and difficult to escape
  • the importance of place-based approaches—those tailored to address particular types of complex and interrelated disadvantage in place—in achieving sustained change
A young indigenous man sitting outside on a concrete ledge holding a book

Dropping off the Edge 2021 now measures as many as 37 indicators of disadvantage across every community in each state and territory. ‘Disadvantage’ refers to a range of difficulties that families might face which can limit their capacity to have a happy and healthy life.

These indicators of disadvantage include things like:

Social distress

Examples include the proportion of people living in low income households (earning less than $33,800 per year), or the proportion of people in households with internet that is not accessed from the dwelling.

Health

Examples include the proportion of people receiving a disability support pension, the overnight admitted mental-health related separations per 10,000 population, and the General Practitioners and Resident Medical Officers who work in the location per 1,000 population.

Community safety

Examples include the number of juvenile convictions per 1,000 population aged 10-17, or the number of prison admissions per 1,000 adult population (aged 18 and over).

Economic factors

Examples include the proportion of people who have been unemployed for more than 1 year to total labour force, or the proportion of people living in social/public housing.

Education

Examples include the proportion of people in a location who left school before Year 10, or the proportion of people in a location with no post-school qualification.

Lifetime disadvantage

Examples include the proportion of female youth aged 15-19 who have at least one child, or the proportion of dependent children aged 0-14 in a family where no parent is working.

Environment

Examples include heat vulnerability, air pollution, and green canopy coverage (the prevalence of trees and vegetation in the community).

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You can read more about each indicator, how they are selected, and how they are measured in the full Dropping off the Edge 2021 Report.

Stack of three printed copies of the Dropping Off The edge 2021 Report

For the first time, qualitative analysis of select communities has been incorporated in the 2021 report. Researchers consulted with community members in certain locations to understand how they experience disadvantage in the area and what they felt could address these issues.


How the report can be used

The rich and detailed research of Dropping off the Edge 2021 has been used by Federal, State and Local Governments to inform decision making, tailor program delivery and inform interventions.

It is also regularly used by individuals and communities to deepen understanding of local challenges and advocate for change. Previous iterations of this research have been used extensively by government at all levels; academics; community services organisations and communities themselves.

The Commonwealth Government has recognised it as an important resource to inform policy and service provision. The type of disadvantage measured by Dropping off the Edge is multi-dimensional, including elements of crime; mental health; and environmental degradation. The results from this report can highlight the locations that will benefit from policies aimed at improving mental health, reducing environmental degradation, and more.

State governments have used the report and index extensively to identify where and what type of services are required; and how policies on revenue collection, education and health might affect different locations.

For local government, which is very much focused on service provision, the index and report are an essential source of information about their local communities, in particular which ones are struggling. This knowledge can help direct resources and activities to assist with building community connections and resilience.

Over the years, community service organisations have used the index and report to identify locations of need requiring service provision and advocacy and the 2021 report will continue to serve as a valuable resource for them.

Dropping off the Edge can be used to support communities themselves to articulate local challenges, activate their community leaders and lobby government, business leaders and decision makers for the resources they need to flourish.

A young girl planting a tree whilst wearing a facemask

How the report was created

For the 2021 report, a literature review was conducted to confirm the importance of the previously used 22 indicators and to expand the list to include intergenerational and environment indicators of disadvantage for the first time.

A technique called Principle Components Analysis (PCA) was used to generate the index in each state and territory, demonstrating general levels of disadvantage. To achieve a more detailed picture of the deep and multilayered nature of disadvantage present in some locations, the research then examined rankings against individual indicators.

The unique aspect of the Dropping off the Edge report compared with other reports like the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA) is that it analyses the indicators separately and over time; and it uses a summary index that includes complex indicators like intergenerational disadvantage, environment, and community safety. No other Australian analysis uses this breadth of indicators to identify disadvantage as well as examining persistent disadvantage over time. This draws a unique picture of different aspects of disadvantage in diverse communities across the country.

New South Wales

Key findings

Aerial photo of Sydney Harbour

New South Wales shows as a state with locations of multilayered and persistent disadvantage both in Greater Sydney and outside Greater Sydney. Public housing and crime were prominent in highly disadvantaged locations on the indicator analysis, while low income was prominent in the index.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Disadvantage is concentrated in a small number of communities within NSW, with 13% of locations accounting for 55% of the most disadvantaged rank positions across all indicators.
  • These communities experience a complex web of disadvantage that make it challenging to improve life opportunities.
  • Almost every location experiencing the greatest disadvantage is located outside Sydney — 37 of the 40 most disadvantaged areas are outside Sydney, and nine of the 10 areas suffering extreme disadvantaged are outside Sydney.
  • A small number of communities have experienced entrenched disadvantage on multiple fronts for long periods of time. Nine of the top 10 most disadvantaged areas in NSW were also ranked highly disadvantaged in 2015, and eight of the top 10 were also ranked highly disadvantaged in 2007.
  • The most common forms of severe disadvantage in places ranking highly on indicators of disadvantage were intergenerational unemployment; family violence; and young people leaving school early, without engaging in subsequent employment or learning.

Map of the Index for NSW.


Map of the index for Greater Sydney.


Case study location: Willmot

Willmot is a suburb within Blacktown City Council with a young and culturally diverse population.

Willmot ranks highly on a number of indicators of disadvantage, with early childhood development clearly a critical issue. Focus group discussions touched on crime, drug use and hooliganism and the impacts on the community. But there were also positives. Many Willmot study participants had strong connections with the local Community Hub and saw the hub as being critical for their future as a thriving community.

  • “When you come [to the Hub], there’s different people every time .…You can meet a lot of people from organisations like to do with kids … With all the programmes they have here, you wouldn’t have to go anywhere, they’re all here.”
  • “There is a preschool run by the council. Children get excited, but parents can’t pay and therefore children are removed from preschool. We need a free, easily accessible, preschool education.”
  • “Start with the youth for a better community, something has to be done for the youth. The cycle needs to be broken.”
  • “This community has gone from sitting back and watching things happening…[to] now they’re standing up and they’re taking responsibility … and taking that ownership.”
  • “We talk to each other. I have good neighbours and good surroundings.”

There is immense social and economic cost to the entire community as a result of sustained disadvantage.


Victoria

Key findings

Aerial photo of Melbourne's CBD

In Victoria, disadvantage is disproportionately borne by a small number of locations, many of which are facing challenges in multiple areas. Disadvantage in Victoria tends to be in regional locations, but the extremes of disadvantage tend to be in Greater Melbourne.

While 25 of the 40 most disadvantaged locations according to the index were in regional Victoria, six of the top ten most disadvantaged locations were in Greater Melbourne. Analysis at the indicator level suggests most of the locations of multilayered disadvantage tend to be in Greater Melbourne; but the locations of persistent disadvantage tend to be outside Greater Melbourne.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Disadvantage is concentrated in a small number of communities within Victoria, with 5% of locations accounting for close to a third of the most disadvantaged rank positions across all indicators measured.
  • These communities experience a complex web of disadvantage that make it challenging to improve life opportunities.
  • While most disadvantage was found outside Melbourne (25 of the 40 most disadvantaged locations), some of the most extreme disadvantage was found within the capital: six of the 10 areas of highest disadvantage are in Melbourne.
  • Layered and persistent disadvantage coexist. Common issues in locations facing disadvantage on multiple fronts are jobless parents; low income; youth not in employment, education or training; and people leaving school before Year 10.

Map of the Index for Victoria.


Map of the Index for Greater Melbourne.


Case study location: Swan Hill

Swan Hill is a regional town with an ageing population.

Swan Hill was selected as a case study due to its regional location, high level of disadvantage (top quintile) and its ageing population. Swan Hill has a high proportion of houses with no internet at home – more than 1.5 times the national average. The town saw movement against several indicators between the 2015 and 2021 reports, with improvements against some and persistent disadvantage on others.

  • “[Impacts of poor internet access] got amplified with COVID when we resorted [to] video conferences and telephones, but we couldn’t reach a lot of the young people in [regional areas] and places like that as they just don’t have internet.’’

You see these teenagers, then they are just ‘What’s the point? What’s the point of trying? What’s the point because I’ve been labelled because my dad did this’. You hear that all the time. … that hopelessness, ‘I’m stuck…'


Queensland

Key Findings

Queensland has shown very similar results to New South Wales in terms of the location of disadvantage, with most locations of high disadvantage being outside the capital. In Queensland it is to the far north and the west. Similar to other states, many of the locations of high disadvantage on the index also experienced multilayered and persistent disadvantage at the indicator level.

At the extreme end of disadvantage, locations are disproportionately affected by engagement with the criminal justice system. There are high levels of public housing in these communities. At a more general level, low income, particulate matter and lack of internet availability at home were most strongly associated with disadvantage across the state.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Disadvantage is concentrated in a small number of communities within Queensland, with 9% of locations accounting for 41% of the most disadvantaged rank positions across all indicators.
  • These communities experience a complex web of disadvantage that make it challenging to improve life opportunities.
  • Most disadvantage is located in regional Queensland, particularly in the west and far north of the state — 30 of the 40 most disadvantaged areas are outside Brisbane, and eight of the 10 areas experiencing the most extreme disadvantage were located outside the capital.
  • The most disadvantaged communities have remained disadvantaged for long periods. Eight of the top 10 most disadvantaged areas were also ranked highly disadvantaged in 2015. Many of these communities were experiencing disadvantage on multiple fronts.
  • There are some positive signs, with a handful of areas improving their results for long-term unemployment and education.
  • The most common forms of severe disadvantage in locations ranking highly on at least eight indicators are jobless parents; young people not in employment, education or training; and low income.

Map of the index for Queensland


Map of the index for Greater Brisbane


Case study location: Beenleigh

Beenleigh is a suburb within Logan City Council catchment and features in the highest quintile of disadvantage on the 2021 DOTE Index.

The area ranks as highly disadvantaged multiple indicators including housing stress, financial stress and receiving rent assistance. There is also a high number of people with a disability, high rates of suicide and high levels of school absenteeism, with a high proportion of Beenleigh students not attending school 90% of the time or more. The location has a high Indigenous population.

  • “There’s no one today in Beenleigh standing up. There’s no leadership at all. Someone needs to take the leadership, have a direction of where you’re going. Until someone decides that’s where we’re going [changes won’t be made].”
  • “There are many new 2-bedroom housing commission units being built but [these] are poorly finished and not disability friendly.”

But participants also expressed pride in local school programs, noting that the local high school principal was voted best Principal in Queensland:

[School attendance] used to be under 50% of … indigenous students going to school. Now they’re looking at up to 80% of attending school.


South Australia

Key Findings

Aerial shot looking down a main street of Adelaide

Disadvantage is concentrated in a small number of areas in South Australia, with one tenth of locations accounting for more than half of the most disadvantaged rank positions across all indicators. The summary index in South Australia has shown that Greater Adelaide has a number of the extremely disadvantaged locations. However, the majority of most disadvantaged locations are in regional South Australia.

The locations with multilayered disadvantage were also the locations with persistent disadvantage. Some of these locations were also in the list of most disadvantaged locations using the index. Greater Adelaide has all the least disadvantaged locations. This is consistent with other states.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Disadvantage is concentrated in a small number of communities within South Australia.
  • Just four areas (2% of total locations) account for close to a quarter (24%) of the most disadvantaged rankings across the indicators examined. This is a twelve-fold overrepresentation.
  • These communities experience a complex web of disadvantage that make it challenging to improve life opportunities.
  • Of the top 20 most disadvantaged areas in South Australia, eight were in Adelaide and 12 were outside Adelaide. Disadvantage is centred in the remote north of the state, and north-west of Adelaide.
  • Several communities have remained disadvantaged for long periods. Of the top 20 most disadvantaged areas, 19 were also highly disadvantaged in 2015. Many of these communities were experiencing disadvantage on multiple fronts.
  • Many disadvantaged communities were affected by air pollution — this is likely a reflection of the remoteness of many of the disadvantaged locations, with both dust and mining activity potentially contributing to particles in the atmosphere.

Map of index for South Australia


Map of index for Greater Adelaide


Tasmania

Key findings

Aerial photo of the town of Hobart

The indicators that contributed most to the index in Tasmania were low income and crime. The low income and crime indicators have consistently presented as important in each state index.

In Tasmania, indicators strongly associated with disadvantage included low income, crime (family violence and prison admissions) and no internet. Low income has been identified in many other states as a major contributor to the index, and no internet was also identified in South Australia. Access to the internet is particularly important for disadvantaged families and children, as many Centrelink services are now provided through the internet; and during the COVID shutdowns, school classes were often provided over the internet. Children in families that don’t have access are at risk of falling further behind students in less disadvantaged families, risking dropping out of school and further entrenchment of disadvantage.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Disadvantage is concentrated in a small number of communities within Tasmania. Six areas (6% of locations) account for 36% of the most disadvantaged ranks across all indicators. This is a six-fold overrepresentation.
  • These communities experience a complex web of disadvantage that make it challenging to improve life opportunities.
  • Most of the disadvantaged communities in Tasmania (six of the 10 most disadvantaged areas) are located in Hobart, despite just one-third of the state’s population living in the city.
  • The most common forms of disadvantage are low income, family violence, prison admissions and no internet at home.

Map of index for Tasmania


Map of index for Greater Hobart


Case study location: Montrose-Rosetta

Montrose-Rosetta, located in the Glenorchy City Council area, has a high proportion of Indigenous residents compared to the national average, as well as an older population.

The area was selected as a case study location not because of its level of disadvantage (it is in Quintile 3 of the 2021 Index) but because of improved rankings on a number of indicators. Montrose-Rosetta moved out of the most disadvantaged 20% on 14 different indicators between the 2015 and 2021 reports. Internet accessibility continues to be an issue, with the proportion of houses with no home internet around 1.5 times the national average.

  • “What we’ve seen over the COVID period is an acceleration of digitisation of basic services and which has left families even further behind. And so I think there’s a new form of exclusion that’s happening for those people.”

One of the reasons we think that the community is improving is the … very slow gentrification, which is an impact of housing affordability issues, which are people pushing people further and further, in the Hobart case north.


Western Australia

Key findings

The analysis of Western Australia has identified that most of the disadvantage is outside Perth, with large areas in the remote north and east of the state experiencing disadvantage. Like other states, there is overlap between the index, multilayered disadvantage and persistent disadvantage with many of the locations identified by the index also experiencing multilayered and persistent disadvantage. The difference in Western Australia was that the main indicator contributing to the index was youth not in employment, education or training. In most other states, low income was the main contributor to the index.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Disadvantage is concentrated in a small number of communities within WA, with 10% of locations accounting for more than half (56%) of the most disadvantaged rank positions across all indicators measured.
  • These communities experience a complex web of disadvantage that make it challenging to improve life opportunities.
  • Most of the disadvantaged areas in WA are in the remote areas in the north and east of the state. Of the 40 most disadvantaged areas, 26 are outside Perth.
  • The most common forms of disadvantage facing disadvantaged locations in WA are jobless parents; low income; and youth not in employment, education or training.

Map of index for Western Australia


Map of index for Perth


Case study location: Narrogin

Narrogin is a rural shire located 200km south-east of Perth with a high indigenous population.

Ranked in the top 40 most disadvantaged areas in the state, Narrogin made an interesting case study as there has been some movement in its ranking on various indicators. Between 2015 and 2021 two indicators moved out of the top 20% disadvantaged (no internet and left school before Year 10) and four moved into the top 20% disadvantaged (NAPLAN and post-school qualifications). Narrogin ranked highly on the psychiatric admissions indicator, and there was strong feeling in the focus groups that access to mental health services in the area is problematic, with limited availability, long wait lists, and a lack of consistency in delivery. Other key themes that emerged included the need for good leadership across the community as well as an effective youth strategy.

  • “Psychology, or counsellors is something that we need a lot of. [We} do have what we call DIDOs, drive in drive out, [where] they have the psychologist …come here one day, maybe two days a week. But they only see four or five cases per day so there’s a waiting list.”

The research that’s been done says we need a [youth] strategy, but then nothing happens. And I think there’s no focus at all [on youth] at the state level.


Northern Territory

Key findings

Red rocky cliffs with scrub bush growing atop

Overall, the analysis that could be undertaken with the Northern Territory data was limited, due to the low populations in each location affecting the current indicators, and the lack of data in 2015. The results from the current report indicate that all the most disadvantaged locations according to the index were outside Darwin. Further, an analysis of the separate indicators highlighted that locations of multilayered disadvantage were also outside Darwin.

Similar to other states, those locations with multilayered disadvantage were also locations with the highest levels of disadvantage, as measured by the index. In terms of the contributors to disadvantage in the Northern Territory, the need for assistance and some of the community safety indicators were important.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Disadvantage is concentrated in a small number of communities within the Northern Territory.
  • Eight areas, about 13% of locations, account for 46% of the most disadvantaged rank positions across all indicators.
  • These communities experience a complex web of disadvantage that make it challenging to improve life opportunities.
  • All of the top 10 disadvantaged areas in the Northern Territory were outside Darwin — yet just one-third of locations are located outside Greater Darwin.

Map of index for the Northern Territory


Map of index for Greater Darwin


Case study location: Atitjere (Harts Range)

Atitjere (Harts Range) is an Indigenous community located 215 km north-east of Alice Springs on the Plenty Highway.

Indicators identified within the DOTE Index for the case study in Atitjere (Harts Range) highlight the diversity of contributors of disadvantage. Low family income was recorded at 2.5 times the national average, proportion of homes with no internet at home 3.8 times the national average, and proportion of people experiencing overcrowding 7.2 times the national average. Notwithstanding these challenges, participants spoke of a connected community.

  • “It is nice and quiet here, people don’t drink here like in Alice Springs or Mt Isa. The people are nice and I can yarn with people.’’

Disadvantage is hard to shift due to the lack of employment opportunities in remote communities which affects household income. The Community Development Program (CDP) is a program is a program in remote Australia that means those who are unemployed are required to contribute to their communities through a range of activities. But community members spoke of the failings of the program and the missed opportunity to build skills and improve outcomes.

  • ‘’There’s just no help and support. We’ve got this [Community Development Program] here, it’s meant to be an employment service. I don’t know what they do, but they don’t go out and support anybody on the outstations. [People] have to come in and do an activity … here when they [are] meant to be doing it outreach.’’

This community needs…hope. Everybody’s frustrated. A lot of people don’t have jobs.


Australian Capital Territory

Key findings

Photo of the city of Canberra, looking down the road to Parliament house

Most people would consider the ACT a rich territory with little disadvantage. However, there is still disadvantage in the ACT.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Disadvantage is concentrated in a small number of communities within the ACT.
  • Seven areas, about 7% of locations, account for 34% of the most disadvantaged rank positions across all indicators. This is a three-fold overrepresentation.
  • Given the relative affluence of the ACT compared with other states and territories, these disadvantaged communities can get overlooked. The disadvantage, including low income and lack of education, make it challenging to improve life opportunities.
  • Many of the disadvantaged areas in the ACT are in the north-west and the south of the ACT. Some of these communities experience disadvantage on multiple fronts.
  • Low income and unskilled workers are the indicators that most strongly represent disadvantage in the ACT.

Map of index for the ACT


The importance of looking beyond the data – university areas as a case study in the ACT

The ACT provided a good example of the importance of looking beyond the data. Areas that many might think were affluent in fact presented as disadvantaged on the data.

These areas have clusters of student accommodation that may have influenced measures such as low income, low post-school qualifications and housing stress. The areas therefore showed as disadvantaged even though these students may be on a pathway to great success and high income.

In other words, data can provide an informative picture of the makeup of a community, but only further analysis and/or conversations with the community can identify what the data means and whether intervention is needed.


In Summary

These findings point to the value of place-based approaches.

Place-based approaches—those tailored to address particular types of complex and interrelated disadvantage in place—will have a better chance of achieving sustained change.

The voices from each of the case study communities illustrate and reinforce the importance of solutions based in local experiences of both community disadvantage and community strengths.

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