Scanlon Institute report: Indian-Australians feel strong belonging

The Scanlon Foundation’s annual social cohesion report shows social cohesion is strained, but support continues for multiculturalism.

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More than three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve mostly gotten used to social interaction and the swing of our old routines again.

The isolation of those years triggered a deep craving for connection, and social events crowded with people eager to catch up on lost time. The Scanlon Foundation Research Institute’s Mapping Social Cohesion Report captured these highs in their 2020 report on social cohesion, with overall social cohesion scoring 92 points out of 100 in November of that year.

But in 2023, the Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion Report now scores overall social cohesion at 78 points, the lowest score since the survey began. Data was collected in July from over 7,700 Australians, including 2,430 overseas-born respondents, of which 263 are of Indian origin.

“Australians have remained remarkably resilient, however, latest survey findings reveal our social cohesion is under pressure and declining on several fronts, straining the fabric of our society,” said Dr James O’Donnell, lead investigator on the Scanlon Institute report.

Despite this, findings show 71 per cent of Indian-Australian respondents feel a strong sense of belonging in their neighbourhoods, alongside 78 per cent of overseas-born Australians. 

This strong sense of belonging is likely connected to their active engagement in their neighbourhoods, with 60 per cent of Indian Australians involved in social or community groups, well above the total of Australian-born respondents (49 per cent).

Economic hardship – a key contributor to lower social cohesion

Since 2007, the Scanlon-Monash Index has measured social cohesion under five criteria to create a combined score – sense of belonging, sense of worth, social inclusion and justice, participation, and acceptance and rejection. A continuing downward trend in these five criteria, has contributed to the overall score’s nosedive.

Simultaneously, economic concerns are growing, with only 61 per cent of respondents satisfied with their financial situation. One in ten overall respondents have said they’ve struggled to pay their rent or mortgage in the last twelve months, and one in five have found it difficult to afford healthcare. Amongst Indian-Australian respondents, 35 per cent have said they are financially struggling.

Dr O’Donnell said the dip in people’s feelings on cohesion is directly linked to the rising cost of living.

“People who are struggling financially are much less likely to feel a great sense of belonging in Australia, and much more likely to feel pessimistic about the future. With more Australians under financial pressure in 2023, it’s perhaps not a surprise that our sense of worth and social inclusion is also lower this year,” he said.

Most poignantly, it seems our attitudes towards the ‘Australian Dream’, an attitude that’s enticed many a migrant to settle here, have changed over the last ten years.

In 2023, only 63 per cent of those surveyed view Australia as a land of opportunity, a significant drop from the 82 per cent recorded in 2013.

Similarly, only 48 per cent of Australians, and 36 per cent of Indian Australians, report feeling a great extent of belonging in Australia. Only 33 per cent of all respondents take great pride in Australian culture and way of life.

“Heightened concern about economic inequality and social justice has seen more Australians questioning governments and their ability to do the right thing by those who are struggling,” said Dr O’Donnell.

“Both of these things then contribute to people feeling less of a sense of connection to Australian values and society, and less pride in how we’re tracking as a nation.”

Support for multiculturalism remains high as we work towards equity

Despite challenging circumstances, findings still point to strong support for multiculturalism, with 89 per cent agreeing multiculturalism has been good for Australia, and 81 per cent saying they have two or more close friends of diverse backgrounds.

Findings also show Australians have maintained their positive attitudes towards Indian immigrants, and negative attitudes towards Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus have continued to decline.

However, multiculturalism is still a work in progress, with 50 per cent of Indian-born respondents having experienced discrimination in the last 12 months.

“I still remember a colleague of mine, she just could not stop picking on how I say W and B and how I pronounce woman,” said one survey respondent, an Indian-born resident of Western Australia, quoted in the report.

“You know, still to this day, I cannot figure out what was wrong with the way I said woman and how to correct it. So even though it was like on the lighter side in the moment, afterwards I would still think about it and not feel really good.”

Promisingly, a growing number of total respondents (71 per cent) feel we should do more to learn different cultural customs.

“I’m sure things are changing in a good way. But it will take some time before things come to a stop,” said another Indian-born respondent who lives in Victoria, quoted in the study.

“There’s a lot of internal racism that needs to be addressed, and that kind of gets to your head sometimes. It does get to my head sometimes. People I know and I thought were good friends, they’ve asked me such unwanted questions that it took me a couple of seconds to recover from that. So, things are going well. But more needs to be done.”

View the full 2023 Mapping Social Cohesion report on the Scanlon Institute’s microsite.

READ ALSO: Census data shows we’re more culturally diverse than ever

Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy is an emerging journalist and theatre-maker based in Melbourne.

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