A caring society is one that treats all people with equal dignity and respect, looks after its people so that no one is left behind, ensures they can access basic goods and services to place them on an equal footing with others, rights the wrongs of the past and looks forward to the future to ensure that our kids have the same or better opportunities than we have. A caring society is also one that values, respects and looks after its workers and volunteers who care and support others.
Is Western Australia a caring society? I believe we do very well in many respects but less well in others.
For a well-off society, we leave too many behind. In our work at UWA on the 100 Families WA project with WACOSS and our community sector partners, we have found very high levels of financial hardship among those being supported by community sector organisations. This translates to hunger, food insecurity, and adverse mental health, physical health and well-being outcomes. In the lead-up to the 200-year anniversary of colonisation in Western Australia, we also need to recognise the wrongs of the past and walk together, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, on a common platform of Voice, Treaty and Truth to create a better world for the future: one which also has met the challenges of human-induced climate change.
At the same time, we do very well in Western Australia in providing fair access to (some) of our basic services, particularly free access to public hospitals which are the best in the world. We also have free access to public schools, but should bear in mind that too many low-income families face pressure in terms of the hidden costs of schooling. We need to do better though when it comes to access to housing for the homeless and for so many young people in WA in terms of jobs. Our youth unemployment rates have been too high for too long. We have been working hard at the Centre for Social Impact at UWA in both of these areas in terms of our research and community impact work, to shed a light on the problems we face.
And, of course, we must value properly the work done by those whose job it is to care in our society. Past research clearly demonstrates that workers in caring jobs are paid less than comparable workers elsewhere. That needs to change. However, one very pleasing trend we have seen in WA is the rise in social purpose-oriented volunteering. And this is no more evident than among our students at UWA through structured student volunteering, student internship options in the social sector through the UWA McCusker Centre for Citizenship and other UWA work placement programs. The engagement of our students as active citizens continues after university study through UWA alumni bodies such as our Alumni for Social Impact group. Our students have a strong impetus to care for our society. Through them and many others in Western Australia, our future is strong as a caring society.