Health, disability and wellbeing
WATCH: Numbers that matter information session recording

Below is a snapshot of the Health, disability and wellbeing section from the Census 2021: Numbers that matter report – you can read more about the report and its authors below this story, as well as explore the other core themes covered by the report.

Every five years there’s great excitement about what the latest Australian Census will say about our nation. It is a snapshot in time that provides important data points; but insights can only be drawn when that data is mixed with the experiences of people closely in touch with our communities.  Terry Symonds from Yooralla provides that invaluable community voice in the story below.

Read more about the lived experiences and voices of community in the full Census 2021: Numbers that matter report.  Delivered by Perpetual Philanthropy and Not-for-profit in conjunction with Seer Data & Analytics.

Health, disability and wellbeing 

Core activity need for assistance by age and sex

While the population of both males and females with a core activity need for assistance has increased over the 15 years from 2006 to 2021, males and females in Australia exhibit differences in rate of core activity need for assistance across age ranges.

Significantly more males aged 5-14 years have a core activity need for assistance than females, while the population of both males and females aged 5-14 years with a core activity need for assistance has increased significantly from 2006 to 2021.

As shown on the graph below the Australian population of males aged 5 to 14 years with a core activity need for assistance increased 170% in the 15 years from 2006 to 2021.  In 2021, 5.78% of males aged 5 to 14 years had a core activity need for assistance, compared with 2.53% in 2006.

Over the same 15 year period, the number of females aged 5 to 14 years with a core activity need for assistance has increased 158%.  In 2021, 2.95% of females aged 5 to 14 years had a core activity need for assistance, compared with 1.35% in 2006.

Core need assistance

Core activity need for assistance – elderly population

Rates of core activity need for assistance have also increased for our elderly population in 2021:

  • 42.42% of males and 53.43% of females aged 85+ had a core activity need for assistance in 2021
    compared with
  • 38.72% of males and 51.56% of females aged 85+ who had a core activity need for assistance in 2006.

Core activities are those essential to everyday living: self-care, mobility and communication.

Community voice: Seeing past the NDIS

by Terry Symonds, Yooralla

The great benefit of data is that it helps you take a wider view.

  • One in five Australians live with some form of disability according to Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) numbers.
  • There’s a smaller but still sizeable group who need some help with daily living.
  • There’s those eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), 500,000 people today and perhaps 600,000 in the next year.

The story of disability in Australia is not the story of the NDIS, though the Scheme dominates debate. I’ve spoken to philanthropists and funders who effectively ask, “Isn’t the NDIS covering that?” The data reminds us that the vast majority of people with disability who need help and access to resources and providers aren’t in the NDIS. But if they don’t get the help and support they need, they will end up in the Scheme and that in turn will affect its cost, reach and effectiveness.

Age and Disability

When I survey the disability field, I see a series of strange patterns. Today, the fastest growing cohort entering the NDIS is children. Approximately 1 in 10 boys aged 5-11 are in the NDIS with an autism diagnosis, or related behaviours. The State education systems may be well placed to help these kids, but due to lack of resourcing and appropriate policy design they can’t or don’t.

To take another example, our policy solutions have irrational age cut-offs. If you’re under 65 and have a disability – you’re in the NDIS. Yet if you’re 65 and over, you’re in the Aged Care system dealing with different funding arrangements, different regulations and providers. We have a Disability Scheme focused on younger people, yet we know that age is the key driver of disability.

Our vision needs to be broader. To ask: “Do you need help?” rather than, “Which policy basket do you fit into?”

Force us to ask the right questions

Philanthropists and funders play a very specific and valuable role here. They help us span boundaries and reach communities that fall between the cracks in government policy and eligibility criteria. Governments appreciate this. They know there’s a patchwork of responsibilities and agencies – State and Federal, Health, Aged Care, the NDIS and more – and that purposeful philanthropy can extend to hard to reach communities. Just as importantly, we’ve found that philanthropists push us to make better policy – to drive an approach based on who we serve rather than what is funded.


With thanks to our community voice for this story:

Terry Symonds is CEO of Yooralla, a not-for-profit with a 100-year history of working with people with disability. Yooralla’s services include accommodation alternatives, in-home support, therapy, attendant care, assistive technologies, employment, education, recreation, training and practical skills for daily living.

Census 2021: Numbers that matter – Learn more

About the report and its authors

Census 2021: Numbers that matter, a strategic compendium for Australia’s for-purpose leaders, boards and philanthropists, which asks and answers the big questions about how to make our society better for all.  The above story is a snapshot of the introduction only, with an additional seven core themes curated in the report, where experts from Perpetual and other social sector organisations reflect on some of the big issues facing our communities, by exploring a series of data insights drawn largely (but not completely) from the 2021 Census.

About Perpetual

Perpetual’s Philanthropy and Not-for-Profit team is one of Australia’s largest advisory teams working with philanthropic individuals, families and for-purpose organisations, helping them have an impact with their giving, investments and communities. For not-for-profits they provide governance, investment management and spending policy advice. They work with philanthropists to develop their giving strategies, set up the most appropriate giving approach for their circumstances and help them assess, choose and support the organisations and causes that matter to them. They work to bring these two groups together and to support them with thought leadership and analysis that helps them achieve more for their communities.

Report Authors

Caitriona Fay, Managing Partner, Community and Social Investment, Perpetual Private
Jane Magor, National Manager, Philanthropy & Non Profit Services, Perpetual Private

Get in touch with the Perpetual and Seer Data & Analytics team with any feedback or questions:

The next steps

EXPLORE the Census 2021 data assets, including insights, an interactive dashboard, and new insight builder tool coming soon.

READ the full report including on the ground insights behind the numbers contributed by community sector leaders.

WATCH Census 2021: Numbers that matter information session recording, where report authors expand on the topics in the report.