Families and Community

The COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating our society’s problems with homelessness, gendered violence, mental health, unemployment, and the marginalisation and discrimination of certain groups. Grassroots initiatives have sprung up to help families and communities at this time, but without increased understanding and government support, these pervading issues of inequality will only increase.


Policy Insights

  • The policies put in place to address COVID-19 must be evaluated in terms of their function within the broader socio-economic context. In order to determine whether policies are improving lives or exacerbating pre-existing issues, the voices and experiences of diverse community groups should be included in the decision-making process. Read more.
  • In order to combat family violence, Australia needs dedicated funding of men’s services, police commitment to proactive policing of known high risk family violence perpetrators, and for courts to ensure a risk-sensitive lens in family violence matters. Read more.
  • With increased levels of waste and charity-shop dumping generated by the COVID-19 crisis, policymakers should review guidelines for increasing and encouraging employment opportunities that contribute to the circular economy. Read more.
  • The value of care work needs to be formalised by setting wages that meet the level of skill and contribution to society that paid care-workers offer, and through policy that addresses the unequal, and often gendered, burden of un-paid care in families and the community. Read more.
  • Governments should actively encourage groups in the community, including religious groups, to promote activities that can overcome social and psychological isolation. Read more.
  • Australia needs a dedicated bystander helpline that provides information and support for anyone aware of, or suspecting, family violence and unsure what to do about it and/ or are in need of support themselves. Read more.
  • Unemployment services need to be restructured with the diverse needs of Australia’s youth in mind. Read more.
  • Politicians have the ability, and an obligation, to address the racist discrimination that has been fuelled in Australian society by the COVID-19 crisis. They should work directly with the groups who are known targets and create policies and messaging that reinforces the value of multiculturalism in society. Read more.

The policies put in place to address COVID-19 must be evaluated in terms of their function within the broader socio-economic context. In order to determine whether policies are improving lives or exacerbating pre-existing issues, the voices and experiences of diverse community groups should be included in the decision-making process.

Dr Narelle Warren

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

Ensuring that precarious, marginal, and otherwise vulnerable communities are not made more so by the pandemic. This is challenging because it includes a range of diverse subaltern communities who are marginalised because of race and ethnicity, geography, disability or other bodily circumstances, or age.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

To a large extent, the policy focal points – driven by public health principles – of COVID-19 have displaced concerns about inclusive and equitable access to quality health and social care in some places. We can see this starkly in the case of bush fire-affected communities who are still living in contexts of environmental risk which may render them vulnerable to respiratory infections (including COVID-19). We also see this in increased rates of chronic disease complications in other settings, such as the spread of COVID-19 in lower socio-economic status areas in Melbourne's north and west. The latter may be completely unrelated to structural vulnerabilities but there remains a need for social science investigation to confirm this.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

There needs to be an awareness that the prioritisation of COVID-19 occurs alongside existing policy and practical initiatives, not instead of them. We need to make sure that subaltern (non-mainstream) communities are engaged in discussions about pandemic response. We need to recognise that diversity means that we must have diverse messages, responses and strategies – one size fits all does not work. We need to determine the experiences, knowledge and priorities of these diverse community groups. This will allow the development of appropriate materials but will also identify strengths and weaknesses which can then inform policies in specific ways. Then we must invite these communities to direct (or contribute to) the agenda in meaningful ways. This will also allow a determination of the competing priorities that constrain people's lives and encourage an acknowledgement of the fact that, while policy responses are strongly focused on COVID-19 right now, other issues continue and may be intensified. The gender-based and family violence increases are important examples of why we can't let hard won gains from the past be displaced by a narrowing of focus on the pandemic.

Additional resources

Davis, M., Warren N., and Whittaker, A. (2020) How can we mobilise general publics to impact COVID-19? The Lens.

Davis, M. (2020) The story of COVID-19 by the numbers. OUP Blog.

Reidpath, D. and Allotey, P. (2020) Preserve Global South's research capacity (Letter). American Association for the Advancement of Science.


In order to combat family violence, Australia needs dedicated funding of men’s services, police commitment to proactive policing of known high risk family violence perpetrators, and for courts to ensure a risk-sensitive lens in family violence matters.

Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

The heightened risk of family violence as a result of the coronavirus restrictions and the financial impacts of the crisis is the key policy challenge facing governments during the restrictions and into the recovery period.  Monitoring and managing perpetrator risk during this period of uncertainty and isolation is essential to keeping women and children safe.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

While the heightened risk of family violence during this period has been widely acknowledged there has been a silence around perpetrators. There remains a lack of focus in terms of the justice system’s ability to hold perpetrators to account and the wider family violence system’s need to keep them ‘in view’ during the crisis.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

Family violence perpetrators can be kept in view through men’s services, proactive policing (including household checks), and the court system. This requires dedicated funding of men’s services, police commitment to proactive policing of known high risk family violence perpetrators, and ensuring the courts apply a risk-sensitive lens in family violence matters. The government should also establish a dedicated bystander helpline to ensure bystanders (neighbours, family, friends and co-workers) have the specialist information available to them to identify and safely respond to family violence. These strategies will enhance opportunities for early intervention and assist in connecting victims to support services and justice agencies.

Additional resources

Fitz-Gibbon, K., Burley, J. and Meyer, S. (2020) How do we keep family violence perpetrators ‘in view’ during the COVID-19 lockdown? The Conversation.

No to Violence (2020) Expert Advisory Committee on Perpetrator Interventions Report. NTV.

Royal Commission into Family Violence (2019) Report and Recommendations. Royal Commission into Family Violence (Victoria).


With increased levels of waste and charity-shop dumping generated by the COVID-19 crisis, policymakers should review guidelines for increasing and encouraging employment opportunities that contribute to the circular economy.

Dr Ruth Lane

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

Waste recycling and circular economy policy. Circular economy approaches favour repair, reuse and recycling rather than disposal, reducing both resource use and waste generation, and are more sustainable. However, COVID-19 restrictions are exacerbating the problem of increasing waste generation, including increased dumping outside charity shops and bins.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

The charitable and community recycling sector. Although circular economy principles endorse longevity, repair and reuse of products and materials, policy has mainly focused on commercial materials recycling. Charitable and community sector organisations facilitate repair and reuse, aligned with employment training - activities which are especially valuable with rising unemployment and hardship.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

It is now critical that we evaluate and support the social and environmental benefits of charitable and community sector organisations. The National Waste report indicates that employment linked to one tonne of goods repaired and reused is significantly higher than employment related to one tonne of materials processed for recycling, but reliable data are lacking. We need an analysis of employment in the repair and reuse sector linked to quantities of materials processed in order to guide government and industry investment. We should identify targets for repair and reuse, alongside materials recycling, linked to reliable measurement approaches.

Additional resources

Household innovation and the transition to the low waste city

Lane, R & Gumley, WS (2018) What role for the social enterprises in the circular economy? in R Crocker, C Saint, G Chen & Y Tong (eds), Unmaking Waste in Production and Consumption: Towards the Circular Economy. 1 edn, Emerald Group Publishing Limited. pp. 133-147.

Svensson, S., Richter, J.L., Maitre-Ekern, E., Pihlajarinne, T., Maigret, A. and Dalhammar, C. (2018) The Emerging 'Right to Repair' legislation in the EU and the U.S. in Proceedings from Going Green – Care Innovation, Lund University.


The value of care work needs to be formalised by setting wages that meet the level of skill and contribution to society that paid care-workers offer, and through policy that addresses the unequal, and often gendered, burden of un-paid care in families and the community.

Professor JaneMaree Maher

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

Resourcing pre-existing social policy challenges such as the prevention of family violence while responding to the new inequalities generated or intensified by COVID-19.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

Gender inequalities underpin family violence and one form of this is the unequal distribution of unpaid care for children. While there is positive discussion about new opportunities for shared care in COVID-19, we need to monitor the extent of real change and unintended adverse consequences.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

State and Federal Governments have recognised the necessity of all forms of care in this current crisis. Teachers and childcare workers are at the frontlines; families are working collaboratively with their schools to deliver education; and health workers are being rightly recognised for their skill, dedication, and sacrifice. Post crisis, we need to remember what we have learned and hold the value of care work in view. We must pay paid care-workers wages that match their skills and contribution and support the equitable distribution and recognition of unpaid care work. If we can, we will build on the cohesion and capacity we have seen and change the gendered inequalities that underpin gendered violence.


Governments should actively encourage groups in the community, including religious groups, to promote activities that can overcome social and psychological isolation.

Professor Constant Mews

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

The need to address social and psychological isolation as a consequence of social distancing measures.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

Awareness of the potentially supportive role that religious groups can play in overcoming isolation, but also of the need for religious groups to broaden their perspectives.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

Governments should actively encourage groups in the community, including religious groups, to promote activities that can overcome social and psychological isolation. The strength of these groups lies in their voluntary character, but they can also benefit from modest financial support for their services.

Additional resources

Mews, C. (2020) Coronavirus: Plagues, pandemics, and religious ramifications through history. Monash Lens.


Australia needs a dedicated bystander helpline that provides information and support for anyone aware of, or suspecting, family violence and unsure what to do about it and/ or are in need of support themselves.

Associate Professor Silke Meyer

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

The need to educate and support bystander interventions around family violence.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

The key missing element is a dedicated bystander helpline that provides information and support for anyone aware of or suspecting family violence and unsure what to do about it and/ or in need of support. Knowledge of family violence affecting a neighbour, family member or friend can also be very distressing.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

Bystanders have always played a critical role in the prevention of family violence, including intimate partner homicide. Now more than ever will bystanders (especially neighbours) be the first - and at times only - witness of family violence. This raises significant concerns among most bystanders but research also shows that bystanders are often unsure how to help, whether to intervene or report, and how to do this safely. In order to inform and support bystanders adequately during COVID-19 related household isolation and beyond, Australia needs a dedicated family violence bystander helpline. This needs to be evidence based, staffed by family violence specialists, and resourced to be available Australia wide. Australia has been a leading nation in family violence reforms in recent years. Investing in a dedicated bystander helpline would further demonstrate Australia's leadership in eliminating family violence.

Additional resources

Meyer, S., and Fitzgibbon, K. (2020) COVID-19: The bystander role has never been more critical in calling out family violence. Monash Lens.


Unemployment services need to be restructured with the diverse needs of Australia’s youth in mind.

Associate Professor Steven Roberts

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

Tackling young people's underemployment and unemployment is a key policy challenge, and has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Transition to adulthood for the current generation faces being substantially stalled.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

An emphasis on how the crisis affects different sections of the youth population in different ways. Talks of a prospective 'lost generation' need to account for relative impact within that generation, in the present and in their futures.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

Avoid one size fits all approaches. We need to invest in research that delivers an understanding of young people's needs for, and literacy about, service and policy that would serve the community. We need to re-design services to ensure maximum engagement. Young people are going to need these services more than ever in the next few years.

Additional resources

Roberts, S. (2020) COVID-19: The dangers of framing the coronavirus in generational terms. Monash Lens.


Politicians have the ability, and an obligation, to address the racist discrimination that has been fuelled by the COVID-19 crisis. They should work directly with groups who are known targets and create policies and messaging that reinforces the value of multiculturalism in Australian society.

Dr Susan Carland

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

Economic downturn has been repeatedly linked to an increase in racial discrimination. Entering a period of COVID-induced economic downturn, we need to proactively prepare for this, especially as Australia has already reported an increase in right-wing extremism, serious forms of anti-Semitism, high levels of negative attitudes towards Muslims, and a recent spike in attacks against Asian Australians.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

There has been no discussion on this likely reality. This issue needs to be addressed. We can even predict which minority groups will be targeted.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

First, recognise that this is a very real concern. Then, I recommend that politicians realise the role they have in this regard - while opportunistic politicians can leverage racist attitudes for their own gain, they also have the power to prevent Australia from going down this path. Don't tolerate colleagues or commentators dog-whistling (or worse). Repeatedly, loudly, and proactively reinforce the value of multiculturalism in Australia. Indeed, it is believed that the role of politicians can be the deciding factor in which way a society falls on this topic. Work with groups we know are likely to be targeted.

Additional resources

Carland, S. (2020) We know racism and recessions go together. Australia must prepare to stop a racism spike here. The Conversation.


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