Dropping off the Edge: Mapping Disadvantage in Australia

Commissioned by Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia

General Perspective

Where an accumulation of problems makes a serious impact upon the wellbeing of residents of a disadvantaged area, locality-specific measures may be needed to supplement general social policy.

Units of Study

As small as available data permits.

Postcodes: Victoria (726), NSW (647), ACT (24)

Statistical Local Areas (SLAs): Queensland (459), South Australia (114)

Local Government Areas (LGAs): Tasmania (29), Western Australia (142)

Standard Reporting Regions: Northern Territory (6)

The Indicators


  • Early disadvantages tend to accumulate
  • Direct manifestation of disadvantage (not speculative connection)
  • Government departments, services hold valuable data
  1. Social Distress: low family income, rental stress, home purchase stress, lone person households.
  2. Health: low birth-weight, childhood injuries, immunisation, disability / sickness support, life expectancy, psychiatric patients: hospital / community, suicide.
  3. Community safety: child maltreatment, criminal convictions, imprisonment, domestic violence.
  4. Economic: unskilled workers, unemployment, long-term unemployment, dependency ratio, low mean taxable income, limited computer use / internet access.
  5. Education: non-attendance at preschool, incomplete education, early school leaving, post-schooling qualifications.
  6. Community Engagement: a range of Victorian community indicators.

Cumulative Disadvantage

Identifying areas of marked disadvantage (simple method - number of times in top 5%).

Spatial concentration of disadvantage - general position: 1.5% of localities account for six to seven times their share of top ranking positions (somewhat less in WA).

Overall Locational Vulnerability - Our Main Approach

A single score on disadvantage index: factor scores.

Purpose of bands - avoid sensationalising individual areas.

Converging Evidence Across Nation:

Disadvantage consequences of:

  • Limited education, lack of computing skills
  • Deficient labour market credentials

Disadvantaging consequences of:

  • indifferent health and disabilities
  • low individual and family income
  • engagement in crime
  • where concentration of high rankings, child maltreatment

Disadvantage factor rankings: Victoria

Band 1: Argyle (3523), Broadmeadows (3047), Korong Vale (3520), Nyah West (3595), Rosebud West (3940), Bowenvale (3465).

Band 2: Braybrook (3019), Bullabull (3517), Corinella (3984), Doveton (3177), Nowa Nowa (3887), Wonthaggi (3995).

Band 3: Corio (3214), Dunolly (3472), Hastings (3915), Colac (3250), Comet Hill (3556),  Eildon (3713).

Band 4: Heidelberg West (3081), Kardella South (3950), Campbellfield (3061), Minyip (3392), Nyah (3594), Robinvale (3549).

Band 5: Castlemaine (3450), Dimboola (3414), East Geelong (3219), Orbost (3888),  Rosebud (3939), Toora (3962).

Band 6: Avoca (3467), Bailieston (3608), Beaufort (3373), Benalla (3672), Delacombe  (3356), Fawkner (3060), Lake Boga (3584), Lakes Entrance (3909), Lismore (3324), Stawell (3380).

Disadvantage factor rankings: NSW

Band 1: Bonalbo (2469), Brewarrina (2839), Kempsey (2440), Lightning Ridge (2834), Tingha (2369), Windale (2306)

Band 2: Bowraville (2449), Casino (2470), Deepwater (2371), Menindee (2879), Urunga (2455), Wellington (2820)

Band 3:  Armatree (2831), Coraki (2471), Harrington (2427), Nambucca Heads (2448), Tweed Heads (2485), Walgett (2832)

Band 4: Forster (2428), Kurri Kurri (2327), Toukley (2263), Weston (2326), Woodenbong (2476), Wilcannia (2836)

Band 5: Boggabilla (2409), Claymore (2559), Koorawatha (2807), Lake Cargelligo (2672), South West Rocks (2431), Tenterfield (2372)

Band 6: Ashford (2361), Bourke (2840), Broken Hill (2880), Diamond Head (2443), Iluka (2466), Inverell (2360), Mt. Druitt (2770), Sawtell (2452), Taree (2430), Warrawong (2502)

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Consistency of Ratings

Three major pieces of evidence:

  1. Top 40 rankings in 2006 and comparable lists in 2004 and 1999 very similar for NSW and Victoria.
  2. Correlations of Victorian and NSW disadvantage factor rankings 2004 and 2006 approximately 0.91.
  3. Correlations of factor scores in 1999 and 2006 also high (0.75 for Victoria and 0.80 for NSW).

Impact of Social Cohesion

  • Can the strength of local social bonds lesson the impact of damaging social, health and economic conditions on community wellbeing?
  • Key concept: social cohesion (connections between people and between them and their community)

Social Cohesion

Defining characteristics:

  • volunteerism
  • membership of local groups
  • group action to improve community
  • neighbours help in difficult times
  • feel safe walking in neighbourhood
  • agree people can be trusted
  • attendance at local community event
  • feel valued by society

Scores for 495 Victorian Postcodes:

  • 155 showed high social cohesion
  • 176 showed medium social cohesion
  • 164 showed low social cohesion

24  pairs of harmful communal conditions and associated unwanted outcomes were studied across the 495 postcodes with social cohesion scores.

In every instance the degree of association (correlation) between the adverse conditions and unwanted outcomes was lower in the high cohesion localities than in the low cohesion ones.

In 19/24 instances the size of r in the middle category was between that of the low and high cohesion groups.

Resourcing Disadvantaged Communities

Evidence supports the role of social cohesion in dampening the effects of harmful communal conditions.

But building cohesion needs to be accompanied by creation of other tangible opportunities in areas such as:

  • Education and training/re-training
  • Work and income generation
  • Improving health
  • Parenting skills
  • Problem solving law enforcement
  • Developing local leadership capacities.

The results of a limited number of government supported studies that have been followed up show promising progress during the period of that support. 

However, in highly disadvantaged areas programs must be sustained for a substantial period - say, 8 years or longer. Otherwise there is a demonstrated risk of a 'boomerang effect'; that is: the reassertion of previous problems.

3% Most Disadvantage

Western Australia (5)Prison admissions x 15.0
Long term unemployment x 5.5
Disability/sickness support x 4.75

Queensland (14)
Child maltreatment x 3.0
Prison admissions x 3.0

NSW (20)Child maltreatment x 4.5
Prison admissions x 3.5

Victoria (22)Yr 12 incomplete x 3.0

South Australia (4)Child maltreatment x 3.75
Long term unemployment x 3.2 

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