This is the fourth and final report in the ACOSS and UNSW Sydney Poverty and Inequality Partnership’s COVID Build Back Fairer series. It traces changes in household wealth and its distribution through the pandemic up to December 2021 and examines the impact of policy settings, including interest rates and COVID payments, on growth in overall wealth and its distribution among different households.

The purpose of the Build Back Fairer series is to help us understand the impacts of the COVID pandemic and government policy responses to it on people’s incomes, wealth, employment and housing and to assess which groups and regions were most affected.

This report is the final report of Phase 1 of the ACOSS/UNSW Poverty and Inequality Partnership, the first 5 years of the partnership which was launched in 2017.

Key findings:

  • Households in Australia are on average the fourth-richest in the world, but many are financially vulnerable due to high debt or low financial buffers.
  • Household wealth grew as much over the past 3 years as in the previous 15 years. Two thirds of the increase in wealth came from house price inflation. Residential property values rose 22% through the year to December 2021 – the highest annual increase in 35 years.
  • Wealth inequality rose sharply from 2003 to 2018, then declined slightly in the pandemic. Rising house prices moderated overall wealth inequality, as housing is distributed more evenly across the population than other kinds of wealth) but shut younger people and those with low incomes out of home ownership.
  • Household wealth is still shared very unequally: The richest 10% of households has an average of $6.1 million and almost half of all wealth (46%), while the lower 60% (with an average of $376,000) has just 17% of all wealth.
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Build Back Fairer Series, Report 4