Two-thirds of parents are concerned that lockdowns are affecting the mental health of their children, with half worried about emerging behavioural problems, according to the latest Guardian Essential poll.
The survey of 1,100 people has also found strong support for the government to indemnify employers who provide Covid-19 vaccinations to their employees through workplace vaccination programs – something that is being pushed by business but which the prime minister, Scott Morrison, has ruled out.
With New South Wales in its eighth week of lockdown, and Victoria and the ACT both hit with a two-week extension on Monday, the latest snapshot of national sentiment reveals ongoing resilience among the adult population but growing concern about the impact of lockdowns on children.
Delta outbreaks across the country have forced more than 16 million Australians into lockdown and the Essential survey suggests 65% of people are worried about the effect on the mental wellbeing of their children – a six percentage point rise compared to a month ago.
Most parents and carers (69%) report being worried that their children are missing out on socialising with their friends, peers and teachers, while 61% say their children are falling behind in their learning.
About half have expressed concern that their child is developing behavioural issues, with 23% saying they are very concerned.
For those with older dependent children, more than half (58%) said they were worried lockdowns were impacting their child’s readiness for life beyond school, while 56% said children were “suffering from exam stress exacerbated by lockdowns”.
The issue of how year 12 students will sit their HSC this year has become a contentious issue in NSW, with the state government rolling out a vaccination program for teenagers in hotspot areas.
The concern about children is also tracked in people’s confidence about the federal government’s plans for managing young people through the pandemic. Almost half (43%) of people surveyed say they are not confident there is a plan to minimise the long-term impact of remote learning on children and young people’s education. A further 39% are confident a plan exists, but think it hasn’t been communicated well.
Amid debate about expanding the vaccine rollout to children, about a third of people (35%) reported they were not confident the federal government had a long-term plan for protecting children and young people from getting Covid-19.
According to federal health department data, about 7,000 people under the age of 19 have already contracted the virus since the beginning of the pandemic in Australia, including about 2,700 children under the age of 10.
The Australian government has approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for those aged 12-15 and is also assessing an application from Moderna for use of its mRNA vaccine in children.
The Essential poll gauged the level of vaccine hesitancy for children, with about 50% of people with children saying they will get them vaccinated, while 41% say they want to but not straight away.
By contrast, the level of vaccine hesitancy among the adult population is plummeting, with the latest survey suggesting 68% have either been vaccinated or would get it “as soon as possible” – the highest level all year.
About one in four say they will get vaccinated, but not straight away, down from a high of 42% in May, while just 8% say they will never get vaccinated. This was as high as 16% in July, showing a dramatic shift in sentiment since the NSW outbreak began in mid-June.
Three-quarters of people also support making vaccinations mandatory for workers in occupations with a high Covid transmission risk such as healthcare, aged and disability care and education, with only 10% opposed.
The majority of people (68%) think the government should indemnify employers who provide Covid-19 vaccinations to their employees through workplace vaccination programs, which is twice as many who think that employers should be the ones liable if anything goes wrong.
The Fair Work Ombudsman last week issued fresh advice for employers considering making the Covid vaccine mandatory for workers, saying they needed to exercise caution and seek legal advice before doing so.
Morrison has pushed back against business calls for a government-backed indemnity scheme, saying it would be akin to a mandatory vaccination program “by stealth”.
Despite the lockdowns across eastern Australia and concerns about their effect on mental health, the survey found more people expressed positive emotions over negative emotions when asked about their mental state. For example, about 25% of people reported being “pessimistic”, while 42% said they were “optimistic”.
While about half of those surveyed expressed concern about how their mental and physical wellbeing and financial situation was being affected by the pandemic, more people reported their current emotional state as calm, content or energised than stressed, frustrated and lethargic.
The most common negative emotion was people feeling uncertain (34%), with this sentiment more prevalent among women and older people, but this too was slightly less than the 36% who said they felt certain.
About a third of people are worried that social-distancing requirements are affecting their personal relationships, and 37% say they feel lonelier than before the pandemic.
Amid sustained criticism of the federal government for its handling of the pandemic, the poll, which has a 3% margin of error, detects that dissatisfaction with the federal government may be stabilising, with 41% now saying they believe the federal government is doing a good job, while 35% rate the federal government’s handling of the outbreak as “poor”.
This is a slight improvement in the government’s positive rating compared with earlier in the month, but the negative rating is still the highest recorded since the question was first asked in March 2020.
A similar number of people believe the NSW government is also doing a good job (42%), but this is the lowest of all the states and falling rapidly, down from 47% earlier this month and 57% at the beginning of July.
The Western Australian government had the highest approval rate at 87%, followed by South Australia (68%), Queensland (66%) and Victoria (56%).
Following the release of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week, Essential also gauged voter views on the risks arising from climate change.
People were most worried (81%) about more extreme and frequent bushfires and longer fire seasons, while the increased frequency of drought in already dry areas was also of concern to 79% of those surveyed.
About three-quarters of people nominated rising sea temperatures, rising sea levels, floods and heavy storms as issues of concern.
When asked what type of government action was best to combat these risks, the most popular measure was providing greater funding for rooftop solar and household battery storage, which was backed by 70% of people.
Sixty-one per cent support setting a nationwide net zero carbon emissions target for 2030, including 54% of Coalition voters, while 53% want to end government support for coal and gas mining in Australia.
About two-thirds (63%) said they would support the introduction of a carbon emission levy on high carbon emitting industries – such as the price signal abolished by Tony Abbott when he came to power in 2013 – including 54% of Coalition voters.