What matters is the home: review finds most retirees well off, some very badly off



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Helen Hodgson, Curtin University

The government’s Retirement Incomes Review paints an encouraging picture of the finances of retired Australians.

Most are at least as well off in retirement as they were while working, and most are more financially satisfied and less financially-stressed than Australians of working age.

But not all. The huge exception is retirees who do not own their own homes.

Whereas very few retired home owners are in poverty, most retired renters are.


Income poverty rates of retirees

Note: Data relates to 2017-18 financial year. Elevated poverty rate defined as 5 percentage points above retiree average.Retirees are where household reference person is aged 65 and over. There is overlap between some categories, for example, early retired and renter categories. Early retired means aged 55-64 and not in the labour force. Housing costs includes the value of both principal and interest components of mortgage repayments.
Source: Analysis of ABS Survey of Income and Housing Confidentialised Unit Record File, 2017-18

So bad is the divide, the review found that even a 40% increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance (the payment for pensioners) would reduce financial stress among renters by only 1%.

This is because rent assistance is low, covering only about 13% of the cost of renting.

Retirees who own their own homes don’t have to pay rent (and can still get the pension should their wealth be tied up in their home), and have a source of wealth that usually eclipses both their own superannuation and the wealth of renters.


Equivalised household wealth by asset type for retirees

Note: Retirees are defined as households where the reference person is aged 65 or older and is no longer in the labour force. Household wealth has been equivalised using the OECD equivalence scale in order to take account of differences in a household’s size and composition. Values in 2017-18 dollars.
ABS, Retirement Incomes Review

Most people do not regard their home as a retirement asset, a view compounded by rules that exempt it from taxes and the pension assets test.

They are also reluctant to borrow against the value of their home using facilities such as the Pension Loans Scheme, for the same reasons they are reluctant to touch any of the wealth they retire with.

Data provided to the review by a large super fund shows its members typically die with 90% of what they had at retirement.

Most retirees don’t use what they’ve got

Another study finds age pensioners die with about 90% of what they had on retirement.

Partly the reasons are psychological. The review says words such as “investments”, “savings” and “nest eggs” imply the assets aren’t for living on.

Before compulsory super, employer-sponsored schemes usually paid “defined” benefits that could be measured in terms of income per year.

In the new system, designed to break the connection between workers and specific employers, benefits were “accumulated” in funds that could most easily be measured by the amount in them.




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It is difficult for most people to see how a lump sum converts into income stream, and even more difficult when it depends on the interaction with the pension.

Another reason retirees hang on to what they had on retirement might be a genuine (if misplaced) concern about the unexpected.

In fact, health and aged care costs are heavily subsidised. Most people’s spending on them doesn’t increase significantly throughout retirement, yet many people seem unaware of how little of their own funds they will need.

Partly this is because of the complexity of the aged care and health care systems and how poorly they are explained.

It’s created two systems

Providing help to retirees who actually need it (mainly renters, many of them single women) and getting people with assets in the form of superannuation, savings and housing to actually use them rather than pass them on in bequests are the two key challenges identified in the report.

They are problems that boosting the rate of compulsory super contributions (as pushed for by the funds and presently leglislated) won’t help with.

They are set to become worse.

Although home ownership rates remain high for people over the age of 65, a growing number of Australians are not entering the housing market.

Over 15 years, the number of Australians over 65 who do not own their home outright is expected to double.




Read more:
Fall in ageing Australians’ home-ownership rates looms as seismic shock for housing policy


As the amount in super funds grows (boosted by the legislated increase in compulsory contributions, should it take place), Australians with super are going to have even more relative to what they need and even less need to make use of it.

The report makes no recommendations, and doesn’t suggest that the solutions are easy.

Widening the pension asset test to include the home would leave many homeowners worse off and could generate distrust and destabilise the system.




Read more:
Retirement incomes review finds problems more super won’t solve


Getting more Australians into home ownership has proved difficult and could never be a solution for all Australians, in any case.

We already have in place rules that require retirees to draw down their super, but often they withdraw the minimum amount permitted and then reinvest much of it in another savings vehicle outside of super.

We’ve created a system where most have enough or more than enough to retire on and others get nothing like enough.The Conversation

Helen Hodgson, Professor, Curtin Law School and Curtin Business School, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Strength training is as important as cardio – and you can do it from home during COVID-19



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Jason Bennie, University of Southern Queensland; Jane Shakespear-Druery, University of Southern Queensland, and Katrien De Cocker, University of Southern Queensland

We often get bombarded with the message “regular physical activity is the key to good health and well-being”. To most of us, when we hear “physical activity”, we typically think of aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, and cycling.

But recent evidence suggests muscle-strengthening exercise is very beneficial to our health. In our study, published today, we argue muscle-strengthening exercise deserves to be considered just as important as aerobic exercise.

And the good news is strength training can be done by anyone, anywhere — and you don’t need fancy equipment.

Strength is just as important as cardio

Muscle-strengthening exercise is also known as strength, weight or resistance training, or simply “lifting weights”. It includes the use of weight machines, exercise bands, hand-held weights, or our own body weight (such as push-ups, sit-ups or planking). It’s typically performed at fitness centres and gyms, but can also be done at home.

More than 30 years of clinical research has shown that muscle-strengthening exercise increases muscle mass, strength and bone mineral density. It improves our body’s capacity to clear sugar and fat from the bloodstream, and improves our ability to perform everyday activities such as walking up stairs or getting in and out of a chair. It can also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

In our research, we reviewed the evidence from several large studies and found muscle-strengthening exercise is associated with a reduced risk of early death, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Importantly, these health benefits remained evident even after accounting for aerobic exercise and other factors such as age, sex, education, income, body mass index, depression and high blood pressure.

Compared with aerobic exercise like jogging, clinical studies show that muscle-strengthening exercise has greater effects on age-related diseases such as sarcopenia (muscle wasting), cognitive decline and physical function.

This is particularly significant considering we have an ageing population in Australia. Declines in muscle mass and cognitive function are predicted to be among the key 21st-century health challenges.

Most of us don’t even lift — but we should

While the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise are clear, the reality is most adults don’t do it, or don’t do it enough. Data from multiple countries show only 10-30% of adults meet the muscle-strengthening exercise guidelines of two or more days per week. Australian adults reported among the lowest levels of strength training in the world.

Our data from more than 1.6 million US adults show nearly twice as many do no muscle-strengthening exercise at all, compared with those who do no aerobic exercise.

The reasons fewer people do strength training than aerobic exercise are complex. In part, it might be because muscle-strengthening exercise has only been included in guidelines for less than a decade, compared with almost 50 years of promoting aerobic exercise. Strength training therefore has been considered by some physical activity and public health scientists as the “forgotten” or “neglected” guideline.

Other factors that may contribute to fewer people doing strength training include the fact it:

  • involves a basic understanding of specific terminology (sets and repetitions)

  • often needs access to equipment (resistance bands or barbells)

  • requires confidence to perform potentially challenging activities (squats, lunges and push-ups)

  • and risks the fear of judgement or falling foul of social norms (such as a fear of excessive muscle gain, or of getting injured).

Here’s how to get started

Unlike most aerobic exercise, strength training can be done at home. It can also be done without extensive equipment, using our own body weight. This makes it a great form of exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people are confined to their homes or otherwise restriced in where they can go.

If you are currently doing no muscle-strengthening exercise, getting started, even a little bit, will likely have immediate health benefits. Guidelines recommend exercising all major muscle groups at least twice a week: legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. This could include bodyweight exercises like push-ups, squats or lunges, or using resistance bands or hand-held weights.

Here are some excellent free online resources that provide practical tips on how to start a muscle-strengthening exercise routine:

An elderly lady lifting some small weights at home
Muscle-strengthening exercise can be performed by anyone, anywhere. And its health benefits rival, and often exceed, aerobic exercise.
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Governments need to step up

Many people find aerobic exercise difficult, impossible or simply unpleasant. For these people, strength training provides a different way to exercise.

The evidence supporting the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise, coupled with its low participation levels, provides a compelling case to promote this type of exercise. But historically, physical activity promotion has generally focused on aerobic exercise.

If governments expect more people to do muscle-strengthening exercise, they need to provide support. One strategy may be to provide affordable access to community fitness centres, home-based equipment and fitness trainers. And media campaigns endorsing muscle-strengthening exercise could also be important for challenging negative stereotypes such as excessive muscle gain. It’s unlikely any of these strategies will be successful individually, so we’ll have to tackle the problem on a few different fronts.The Conversation

Jason Bennie, Senior Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland; Jane Shakespear-Druery, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, PhD Candidate, University of Southern Queensland, and Katrien De Cocker, Senior Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The ‘hospital in the home’ revolution has been stalled by COVID-19. But it’s still a good idea



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Martin Hensher, Deakin University; Bodil Rasmussen, Deakin University, and Maxine Duke, Deakin University

Growing numbers of Australians are choosing to receive their hospital care at home, according to figures published today in the Medical Journal of Australia. In 2017-18, more than half a million days of publicly funded hospital care were delivered at patients’ homes rather than in hospital.

“Hospital in the home” is just what it sounds like – an acute care service that provides care in the home that would otherwise need to be received as an inpatient.

It provides an alternative to hospital admission, or an opportunity for earlier discharge than would otherwise be possible. The research found it is also associated with a lower likelihood of readmission within 28 days (2.3% vs 3.6%) and lower rates of patient deaths (0.3% vs 1.4%), compared with being an inpatient.

While federal government plans to boost hospital in the home have been hampered by COVID-19, home service models may be even more valuable in a post-pandemic world.




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A push from government

In November last year, federal health minister Greg Hunt called for a “hospital in the home revolution”.

He told state and territory governments and private health insurers he wanted more care delivered in patients’ homes rather than hospitals, and pledged to make it easier for these services to qualify for funding.

Hunt said his aim was to offer more choice and better clinical outcomes for patients, as well as better efficiency for state and territory health departments and private health funds. He explicitly linked this plan to efforts to curb the spiralling increases in private health insurance premiums, which threaten that industry’s future.

Hospital in the home was on the federal government’s agenda late last year.
Shuttershock

The promised revolution has inevitably been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the new research provides a timely reminder of the importance and potential of hospital in the home.

How is hospital in the home delivered?

Hospital in the home is already a widespread practice in Australia. Nationwide, more than 595,000 days of hospital in the home care were delivered in 2017-18 for public patients, accounting for more than 5% of acute-care bed days.

Yet in the private sector, fewer than 1% of acute bed days were delivered at home.

In Victoria, hospital in the home services have been funded by the public health system since 1994, and have consistently been affirmed as being safe and appropriate for patients.

Victoria’s hospital in the home program delivered more than 242,000 patient bed days in 2017-18. Monash Health’s hospital in the home service provided care for some 14% of the whole health service’s overnight admissions in June 2019.




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There is considerable variation between states and territories, and between individual health services, in how these services are delivered.

Generally, they are staffed by a multidisciplinary mix of nursing, medical and allied health staff. Patients admitted to the program remain under the care of their hospital doctor, and the hospital’s full resources are available to each patient should they need them.

Some of the main activities of hospital in the home include:

  • administration of intravenous antibiotics for short- and long-term infections

  • administration of anticoagulants to help prevent blood clots

  • post-surgical care

  • complex wound care and management

  • chemotherapy.

Western Health’s hospital in the home program provides support for people with chronic conditions like heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer. Monash Health provides a wide range of care throughout life, from premature babies to aged care.

Why is it a good thing?

For patients, the benefits include increased comfort, less noise, freedom of movement, more palatable food and, crucially, reduced exposure to hospital-acquired infections.

Treating patients in their homes can also improve responsiveness to cultural and socioeconomic needs, and provide support for carers.

Patients and carers alike appreciate the ability to choose an alternative to hospital admission and feel more in control when care is delivered in their own home.




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Here’s how many people get infections in Australian hospitals every year


Based on international evidence, it is less clear whether discharging patients early from hospital and treating them at home actually reduces costs. A 2012 meta-analysis suggested it does, but more recent Cochrane reviews concluded the cost benefits are “uncertain”.

Many people prefer to be at home.
Shutterstock

Hospital in the home and COVID-19

Despite having pushed hospital in the home reforms onto the back burner, COVID-19 might paradoxically provide even greater impetus for this type of care model.

In the short term, home treatment can relieve pressure on the acute hospital system. One example is the Victorian government’s support for mental health care delivered to young people via hospital in the home during the pandemic.

Longer term, the rapid boost to telehealth and remote monitoring technology driven by COVID-19 will greatly benefit hospital in the home.

Better integrated and coordinated hospital in the home care can be achieved via an e-enabled care model, supporting self-management activities, remote symptom monitoring, patient reminders and decision support. It’s likely we’ll see far less resistance to these measures following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patients’ and carers’ perceptions of home hospital care are also likely to have improved as a byproduct of COVID-19, as people avoid visiting hospitals in person if possible. These attitudes may last well beyond the pandemic.




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While private health insurers are currently enjoying bumper profits as COVID-19 reduces the amount of member claims, the likely economic downturn in the wake of the pandemic may put insurers and private hospitals under great pressure as members cancel their policies due to unemployment or reduced income. Hospital in the home could prove a useful tool to drive down costs.

Hunt’s promised revolution will require big changes to the regulations that govern private health care, and to insurers’ willingness to demand change from private hospitals. But if we have learned anything from COVID-19, it’s that change can happen fast when it’s really needed.


The authors wish to acknowledge staff at Western Health (Micheal Perrone, Erin Webster, Aneta Lavcanski) and Monash Health (Jennine Harbrow, Helen Richards) for their contribution to this article.The Conversation

Martin Hensher, Associate Professor of Health Systems Financing & Organisation, Deakin University; Bodil Rasmussen, Professor in Nursing, Deakin University, and Maxine Duke, Emeritus Professor Nursing and Midwifery, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If more of us work from home after coronavirus we’ll need to rethink city planning



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John L Hopkins, Swinburne University of Technology

We have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of people working from home as directed by governments and employers around the world to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

If, as some expect, people are likely to work from home more often after the pandemic, what will this mean for infrastructure planning? Will cities still need all the multibillion-dollar road, public transport, telecommunications and energy projects, including some already in the pipeline?




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Flexible working, the neglected congestion-busting solution for our cities


World’s largest work-from-home experiment

Remote working was steadily on the rise well before COVID-19. But the pandemic suddenly escalated the trend into the “world’s largest work-from-home experiment”. Many people who have had to embrace remote working during the pandemic might not want to return to the office every day once restrictions are lifted.

They might have found some work tasks are actually easier to do at home. Or they (and their employers) might have discovered things that weren’t thought possible to do from home are possible. They might then question why they had to go into the workplace so often in the first place.

But what impact will this have on our cities? After all, many aspects of our cities were designed with commuting, not working from home, in mind.




Read more:
Coronavirus could spark a revolution in working from home. Are we ready?


Stress test for NBN and energy networks

From a telecommunications perspective, the huge increase in people working from home challenges the ways in which our existing networks were designed.

Data from Aussie Broadband show evening peak broadband use has increased 25% during the shutdown. Additional daytime increases are expected due to home schooling with term 2 starting.

Research by the then federal Department of Communications in 2018 estimated the average Australian household would need a maximum download speed of 49Mbps during peak-use times by 2026. If more people work from home after COVID-19, the size and times of peak use might need to be recalculated.

Another factor not modelled by the government research was the potential impact of an increase in uploads. This is a typical requirement for people working from home, as they now send large files via their suburban home networks, rather than their office networks in the city.




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Coronavirus: telcos are picking up where the NBN is failing. Here’s what it means for you


Recent research by Octopus Energy in the UK has found domestic energy use patterns have also changed since COVID-19. With more people working from home, domestic energy use in the middle of the day is noticeably higher. Some 30% of customers use an average of 1.5kWh more electricity between 9am and 5pm.

Conversely, data from the US show electricity use in city centres and industrial areas has declined over the same period.

Less commuting means less congestion

Closer to home, new data from HERE Technologies illustrate just how much traffic congestion has eased.

Thursday afternoons from 5-5.15pm are normally the worst time of the week for traffic congestion in Melbourne. Last week the city’s roads recorded the sort of free-flowing traffic usually seen at 9.30am on a Sunday. Just 1.8% of Melbourne’s major roads were congested, a fraction of the usual 19.8% at that time.

All of Australia’s major cities are experiencing similar reductions. Transurban has reported traffic is down 43% on the Melbourne airport toll road, 29% on its Sydney roads and 27% in Queensland.

Passengers are also staying away from public transport in droves. For example, South Australian government statistics for Adelaide show passenger numbers have slumped by 69% for buses, by 74% for trains and by 77% for trams, compared with this time last year.




Read more:
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What does this mean for infrastructure planning?

With these trends in mind, future investment in roads, public transport, energy and telecommunications will need to consider the likelihood of more people working from home.

Prior to COVID-19, Melbourne research found 64% of city workers regularly worked from home, but usually only one day a week, even though 50% of their work could be done anywhere. While the changes we are now seeing are a result of extreme circumstances, it is not inconceivable that, on average, everybody could continue to work from home one extra day per week after the pandemic. Even this would have significant implications for long-term urban planning.

The most recent Australian Census data show 9.2 million people typically commute to work each day. If people worked from home an average of one extra day per week, this would take 1.8 million commuters off the roads and public transport each day.

Many road and public transport projects will be based on forecasts of continuing increases in commuter numbers. If, instead, people work from home more often, this could call into question the need for those projects.

Areas outside city centres would also require more attention, as working from home creates a need for more evenly distributed networks of services for the likes of energy and telecommunications. Interestingly, such a trend could support long-term decentralisation plans, like those outlined in Melbourne’s Metropolitan Planning Strategy. And if such change encourages more people to live away from the big cities, it also could help to make housing more affordable.




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Fancy an e-change? How people are escaping city congestion and living costs by working remotely


The Conversation


John L Hopkins, Innovation Fellow, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Goodbye to the crowded office: how coronavirus will change the way we work together



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Rachel Morrison, Auckland University of Technology

As lockdowns are relaxed around the world and people return to their workplaces, the next challenge will be adapting open office spaces to the new normal of strict personal hygiene and physical distancing.

While the merits and disadvantages of open plan and flexible workspaces have long been debated, the risk they posed of allowing dangerous, highly contagious viruses to spread was rarely (if ever) considered.

But co-working spaces are characterised by shared areas and amenities with surfaces that need constant cleaning. Droplets from a single sneeze can travel over 7 metres, and surfaces within pods or booths, designed for privacy, could remain hazardous for days.

Even in countries such as Australia and New Zealand where efforts to “flatten the curve” have been successful and which have relatively easily controlled borders, it’s fair to ask whether communal workspaces might be a thing of the past.

Perhaps – if vigilant measures are in place – some countries can continue to embrace collaborative, flexible, activity-based workplace designs and the cost savings they represent. But this is unlikely to be the case in general in the coming years. Even if some organisations can operate with minimal risk there will be an expectation they provide virus-free workplaces should there be future outbreaks.

Working from home

Worldwide, there will undoubtedly be fewer people in the office – now workers have tried working from home, they may find they like it. And organisations may have little choice but to limit the numbers of workers on-site. Staggered shifts, enforced flexitime, and 24/7 operations may become the norm, along with working remotely.

Video meetings, even within the same workplace, could become the new normal.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

The open plan model has been criticised for everything from lowered productivity, less interpersonal interaction, antisocial behaviour, reduced well-being, too much distraction, a lack of privacy, and making workers feel exposed and monitored.




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Get out of my face! We’re more antisocial in a shared office space


But it has also been shown to improve cooperation and communication. Whether these innovative spaces are within a large organisation or are communal workspaces where start-ups, freelancers, and contractors can sit together (such as GridAKL in Auckland or The Commons in Sydney), their popularity is undeniable. The sense of community and the ability to share knowledge and ideas are key attractions of co-working.




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Open plan offices CAN actually work, under certain conditions


Riding the shared/flexi-space wave have been companies such as WeWork – popularising communal tables within co-working hubs and providing “pods” for private conversations. But there is now little doubt WeWork will be an early casualty of COVID-19. Already in financial trouble before the pandemic, WeWork will cut more than 1,000 jobs this month.

But what about the thousands of organisations that retooled their densely populated work environments to encourage flexibility, activity-based work, and movement within and between spaces?

James Muir, CEO of sustainability start-up Crunch and Flourish has no doubt using co-working offices in central Auckland has been a positive: “We benefited from the great community at GridAKL,” he says. “And before long we were collaborating with other start-ups on marketing and design as well as getting great advice from more experienced entrepreneurs.”

Shared workspace company WeWork is expected to be another casualty of COVID-19.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Missing social cues online

Those fortuitous conversations and information exchanges will inevitably become rarer as we avoid the risk of interpersonal contact – and they are almost impossible to mimic online. Personal interaction (even within the office) will be replaced with the already familiar virtual video meeting – or even, as TIME magazine reports, holograms and avatars.




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How women’s life-long experiences of being judged by their appearance affect how they feel in open-plan offices


However, communication is more challenging when conducted remotely. We are more persuasive in person, particularly if we know the person. Being on a video call is more draining than a face-to-face chat because workers must concentrate harder to process non-verbal cues such as tone of voice and body language. Anxiety about technology is another barrier, and some find lack of eye contact in virtual meetings (mimicked by staring at the “dot” of your own camera) disquieting.

New norms of hand sanitising, cleaning equipment and wearing masks will emerge. Handshaking or friendly pecks on the cheek may soon be things of the past, as will family photos and mementos on desks, if they prove too difficult to sanitise.

Aside from behaviours, policies, and attitudes, the physical office will need to change. Already, a company in the Netherlands has coined the term the “6 feet office”, aiming to redesign workspaces to help workers maintain social distancing at work.

We may even see the return of the high-walled cubicle, and the introduction of wide corridors and one-way foot traffic, already found in some hospitals. Activity-based work and hot-desks (which oblige people to move throughout the day) could be replaced by assigned desk arrangements where workers sit back to back.

New builds might incorporate touch-free technology such as voice-activated lifts, doors and cabinets, touchless sinks and soap dispensers, improved air venting and UV lights to disinfect surfaces overnight.

In the meantime, will James Muir resume running Crunch and Flourish from his co-working office after the pandemic? “Yes,” he says, “once the risk of any new cases is under control.”The Conversation

Rachel Morrison, Associate Professor, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Click for urgent coronavirus update’: how working from home may be exposing us to cybercrime


Craig Valli, Edith Cowan University

Apart from the obvious health and economic impacts, the coronavirus also presents a major opportunity for cybercriminals.

As staff across sectors and university students shift to working and studying from home, large organisations are at increased risk of being targeted. With defences down, companies should go the extra mile to protect their business networks and employees at such a precarious time.

Reports suggest hackers are already exploiting remote workers, luring them into online scams masquerading as important information related to the pandemic.

On Friday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch reported that since January 1 it had received 94 reports of coronavirus-related scams, and this figure could rise.

As COVID-19 causes a spike in telework, teleheath and online education, cybercriminals have fewer hurdles to jump in gaining access to networks.

High-speed access theft

The National Broadband Network’s infrastructure has afforded many Australians access to higher-speed internet, compared with DSL connections. Unfortunately this also gives cybercriminals high-speed access to Australian homes, letting them rapidly extract personal and financial details from victims.

The shift to working from home means many people are using home computers, instead of more secure corporate-supplied devices. This provides criminals relatively easy access to corporate documents, trade secrets and financial information.




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Instead of attacking a corporation’s network, which would likely be secured with advanced cybersecurity countermeasures and tracking, they now simply have to locate and attack the employee’s home network. This means less chance of discovery.

Beware cryptolocker attacks

Cryptolocker-based attacks are an advanced cyberattack that can bypass many traditional countermeasures, including antivirus software. This is because they’re designed and built by advanced cybercriminals.

Most infections from a cryptolocker virus happen when people open unknown attachments, sent in malicious emails.

In some cases, the attack can be traced to nation state actors. One example is the infamous WannaCry cyberattack, which deployed malware (software designed to cause harm) that encrypted computers in more than 150 countries. The hackers, supposedly from North Korea, demanded cryptocurrency in exchange for unlocking them.

If an employee working from home accidentally activates cryptolocker malware while browsing the internet or reading an email, this could first take out the home network, then spread to the corporate network, and to other attached home networks.

This can happen if their device is connected to the workplace network via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This makes the home device an extension of the corporate network, and the virus can bypass any advanced barriers the corporate network may have.




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If devices are attached to a network that has been infected and not completely cleaned, the contaminant can rapidly spread again and again. In fact, a single device that isn’t cleaned properly can cause millions of dollars in damage. This happened during the 2016 Petya and NotPetya malware attack.

Encryption: not a cryptic concept

On the bright side, there are some steps organisations and employees can take to protect their digital assets from opportunistic criminal activity.

Encryption is a key weapon in this fight. This security method protects files and network communications by methodically “scrambling” the contents using an algorithm. The receiving party is given a key to unscramble, or “decrypt”, the information.

With remote work booming, encryption should be enabled for files on hard drives and USB sticks that contain sensitive information.

Enabling encryption on a Windows or Apple device is also simple. And don’t forget to backup your encryption keys when prompted onto a USB drive, and store them in a safe place such as a locked cabinet, or off site.

VPNs help close the loop

A VPN should be used at all times when connected to WiFi, even at home. This tool helps mask your online activity and location, by routing outgoing and incoming data through a secure “virtual tunnel” between your computer and the VPN server.

Existing WiFi access protocols (WEP, WPA, WPA2) are insecure when being used to transmit sensitive data. Without a VPN, cybercriminals can more easily intercept and retrieve data.

VPN is already functional in Windows and Apple devices. Most reputable antivirus internet protection suites incorporate them.

It’s also important that businesses and organisations encourage remote employees to use the best malware and antiviral protections on their home systems, even if this comes at the organisation’s expense.

Backup, backup, backup

People often backup their files on a home computer, personal phone or tablet. There is significant risk in doing this with corporate documents and sensitive digital files.

When working from home, sensitive material can be stored in a location unknown to the organisation. This could be a cloud location (such as iCloud, Google Cloud, or Dropbox), or via backup software the user owns or uses. Files stored in these locations may not protected under Australian laws.




Read more:
How we can each fight cybercrime with smarter habits


Businesses choosing to save files on the cloud, on an external hard drive or on a home computer need to identify backup regimes that fit the risk profile of their business. Essentially, if you don’t allow files to be saved on a computer’s hard drive at work, and use the cloud exclusively, the same level of protection should apply when working from home.

Appropriate backups must observed by all remote workers, along with standard cybersecurity measures such as firewall, encryption, VPN and antivirus software. Only then can we rely on some level of protection at a time when cybercriminals are desperate to profit.The Conversation

Craig Valli, Director of ECU Security Research Institute, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Working from home: what are your employer’s responsibilities, and what are yours?



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Robin Price, CQUniversity Australia and Linda Colley, CQUniversity Australia

So you’ve been asked to work from home.

Doing so usually requires changing aspects of your relationship with your employer. What it doesn’t change is that your relationship is based on mutual obligations. These remain exactly the same even though you work at home.




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Your employer’s duties, under both industrial relations and work health and safety laws, are to ensure you are able to work safely at home, and to cover reasonable expenses. Your obligation is to work if you want to be paid.

A safe workspace

In Australia, an employer has a legal duty of care for the health and safety of workers “so far as is reasonably practicable”. This duty is contained under the uniform work health and safety legislation of states and territories – see, for example, the Queensland legislation.

That duty of care extends to anywhere work is performed. If you are asked to work from home, your employer is responsible to ensure this does not pose a risk to your health and safety.




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Some organisations conduct formal inspections of homes before approving working-from-home arrangements. That may not be practical in current circumstances.

The next best option might be a virtual tour using virtual meeting software such as Google hangouts or Zoom. At a minimum, your employer should provide you with a health and safety checklist, specifying considerations such as:

  • a safe work space free from trip hazards (such as rugs and cables)
  • a broadly safe environment including an exit, smoke alarms and a first aid kit
  • appropriate lighting and ventilation
  • ergonomic requirements such as a desk large enough for tasks, phone and mouse within reach
  • a chair that adjusts to ensure your feet are flat on the floor
  • a computer screen positioned for your eyes to meet the top of the screen

Reimbursing expenses

Your employer’s primary responsibility under industrial relations law is to pay you for the work you do under applicable awards, enterprise agreements and contracts.

Your employer is also responsible for providing you with the appropriate resources for work to be carried out. These might include a computer with systems to access and protect work files, a headset, a webcam and virtual meeting software.




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There is an implied obligation also to reimburse you for expenses incurred while working at home, such as extra electricity or internet access.

This obligation may be spelled out in an enterprise agreement or a working-from-home policy, but not all organisations have codified entitlements. You may need to establish with your employer what costs will be reimbursed, what limits apply, and what approvals are required.

If your employer does not reimburse you for running costs – because the paperwork is arduous and the amount usually small – remember you can also claim work-related expenses, including the cost of a dedicated work area, as tax deductions. Claimable expenses are set out on the Australian Taxation Office’s website.

Employee responsibilities

In allowing you to work from home, your employer is demonstrating a degree of trust that past generations of managers would have found unacceptable. Your obligation is to do the right thing even without direct supervision, observing the same practices as normally expected by your employer.

All your usual employee responsibilities from the workplace continue to apply, such as obeying lawful directions and working to the best of your ability.

Much has been written on how best to work at home. There are some common themes. Get dressed for work, so that you feel “at work” and behave accordingly. Maintain a separate work space, so there is a clear delineation between work and leisure. Ensure you take breaks to maintain your health and well-being.




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Another aspect of well-being you will need to pay conscious attention to is minimising the psychological stress of isolation.

Working from home can be isolating in the best of times, and in the current situation this is arguably also an aspect of your employer’s duty of care. But this is something that cannot be easily codified and will require goodwill and negotiation. You and your employer may need to consider new routines for communication to ensure working at home is about physical distancing and social solidarity, not social isolation.The Conversation

Robin Price, Lecturer in Employment Relations and Human Resource Management, CQUniversity Australia and Linda Colley, Associate Professor HRM/IR, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

My child is staying home from school because of coronavirus. Is that illegal?



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John O’Brien, Queensland University of Technology

In a recent press conference on the COVID-19 situation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Australia schools would remain open for the foreseeable future. He said:

The health advice here, supported by all the Premiers, all the Chief Ministers and my Government is that schools should remain open […] I am asking all other parents around the country […] There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.

But many parents are keeping their children home. Some are doing this in an effort to “flatten the curve”, and others may be worried for the health of their child or elderly relatives.

Attendance in schools across Australia has fallen, by as much as 50% in some. Considering parents are going against the directive of governments, are they breaking the law by taking their kids out of school to study at home?

On the face of it, the answer is yes. But it’s not black and white, and the likelihood of criminal proceedings is traditionally very low. Fining parents has always been considered a last resort, and that would seem unlikely to change in a time like now.

But the law is the law, and is there for a specific social purpose – it is never advisable to willingly and persistently ignore it.

What does the law say?

School education is governed by state and territory laws that mandate compulsory education. Parents are legally obliged to ensure their child attends school (or other educational options such as homeschooling) every school day, unless the parent has a reasonable excuse.

The maximum fine that can be issued to a parent varies considerably across jurisdictions. If a parent was to face court (normally this would be for persistent non-attendance), the fine in Queensland can be up to A$800, whereas in New South Wales, it could be $2,750.




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But again, prosecuting parents will not usually be the first response, and these figures are the maximum a court may impose. Many states either suggest or require warnings, notices, meetings or conferences before a case can be recommended for prosecution.

Is COVID-19 a ‘reasonable excuse’?

Most jurisdictions provide for a reasonable excuse to be given, and then often provide a few examples of what this might cover. If a child is actually sick, this would often be listed as an acceptable reason for their absence.

Similarly, six of the jurisdictions (ACT, NSW, NT, Qld, Tas, WA) specifically mention a defence where the child is required to stay home due to a public health direction. The current direction of governments is for healthy children to go to school. But this defence could cover a situation where a family member is confirmed to have COVID-19, or the child has recently returned from overseas, and therefore needs to self-quarantine for 14 days.

South Australia has a new Act which could allow a parent to keep a healthy child at home to prevent the risk of the child catching a disease; however this law has not yet begun to operate.

Without there being any specific and obvious defence for parents, it would come down to whether removing a child from school due to the threat of COVID-19 is considered a “reasonable” excuse.

Who decides?

In a worst-case scenario, it would be a court that would ultimately decide this question. But there are a range of decision-makers involved in school non-attendance cases who precede a court, including school principals.

Parents could apply for an exemption to their obligations in advance of their child’s absence. Decision-makers for exemptions vary between jurisdictions, and sometimes even within a jurisdiction depending on whether the child is at a state or non-state school.

Powers might be vested in the relevant minister (NSW, SA, Tas, Vic, WA), a departmental CEO/director-general or their delegate (ACT, NT, Qld State Schools), or a school principal (Qld non-state schools).

A factor that might make it more reasonable for the child to be exempted could be if there are other household members who fit into high-risk categories (for example, someone who is immuno-compromised). Also relevant might be what provision has been made for the child once the parent removes them – will the child be doing schoolwork, or playing video-games unsupervised all day?




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The prime minister said anything we do we would need to do for six months. This situation isn’t likely to resolve itself anytime soon, and it’s uncertain whether government advice will change with regard to schools.

For now, technically, keeping healthy children at home can be considered illegal. But the likelihood of criminal proceedings is low, and a government decision to prosecute parents would, I imagine, be publicly unpalatable.The Conversation

John O’Brien, Associate Lecturer, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Schools are open during the coronavirus outbreak but should I voluntarily keep my kids home anyway, if I can? We asked 5 experts



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Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation

Editor’s note: This article is based on the coronavirus situation in Australia as of March 19. The situation may change over time.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said government schools across Australia will remain open for the foreseeable future as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads. He added that:

as a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school. There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.

However, many parents are already voluntarily keeping their children home in an effort to “flatten the curve” – or are considering doing so.

We asked five experts to answer the question: schools are staying open but should I voluntarily keep my kids home anyway, if I can?

Four of the five experts said no

Sign up to The ConversationThe Conversation

Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Get dressed and set goals: some routines not to break if coronavirus means you have to work from home



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Paula Brough, Griffith University

The precautions taken by some employers over the coronavirus mean you may find yourself working from home, some for the first time.

For example, Telstra says it wants any Australian-based office staff who can work from home to do so until the end of the month “at a minimum”. Many other employers are encouraging their staff to do the same.

You might feel this is a chance to stay in pyjamas all day, graze your way through the kitchen cupboards, and balance work tasks with online shopping and social media entries.




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But that won’t help the work get done, and it won’t do much for your sense of well-being. So here are some useful strategies to help if you want to be productive and still feel connected to your workplace over what might be a long working-from-home period.

Work as normal

First prepare yourself for a normal working day. Get up as normal, shower, dress for a casual work day, brush your hair, look as normally presentable as you usually do.

This will put you in your normal work mindset. It will also help if you’re suddenly included in a work meeting via Skype, Zoom, Facetime or Google Hangouts.

Next the physical environment. If you can, have a dedicated work space in a quiet room. It’s really preferable not to work in bed or in your bedroom.

Try to set a desk at home as you would at work.
Flickr/Nenad Stojkovic, CC BY

Set up some desk space similar to your office space at work, aiming to replicate your real work space will also help you achieve that work mindset. Plus you want a neutral background behind you for that work video call.

Use software and apps to help you stay connected, such as Slack, Jabber or other similar tools.

Your household data usage will likely increase as you become home-bound. Boost your Wi-fi facilities if you need to – refer to the support offered by your telecom company or internet provider. Some are already offering free upgrades to customers.

Have a plan

Book in daily work meetings via video hook-ups to stay connected and plan work tasks (now you’ll be glad you got out of your PJs!).

You’ll likely still have as much work to do, so plan for a full work day and prioritise your tasks as usual. Make sure you know what is expected of you. Discuss your work tasks with your supervisor as you normally would, it’s important both you and they are clear about your daily work tasks and due dates.

If part of a team, then make sure you know what each member is working on and when their work is due, and follow this up by calls and emails. As always, tell your supervisor of any problems you experience with completing your work.

And remember it’s preferable to discuss any problems via a phone or video call, rather than multiple emails, to better clarify the issues involved.




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It’s also important to look after your psychological health, during what could become long periods of isolation. Your may feel a bit overwhelmed by the directive to work from home, and also anxious about the broader coronavirus situation.

Social contact is very important. If you’re used to having lunch or coffee with colleagues, plan a quick social phone or video call to each other at lunchtime or after you have finished a few hours of work. It’s really important to stay connected with your colleagues as usual and to make sure all feel supported.

Get some fresh air. If you can, have a daily walk to your local shop, or at least get outside in your garden or balcony. Hang out some washing, walk the dog, water a plant, pick some fresh veggies, just take a break from your desk and move around.

Call family, friends and colleagues to see how they’re doing. Stay socially connected.

Use video technology to stay socially connected with your work colleagues.
Shutterstock/RossHelen

That work/life balance

It’s also important to think through your work-home boundaries. We’ve become used to blurring these boundaries a little, which is often beneficial, helping us to manage our multiple demands.

But when your home and work are located in the same place, the boundary setting needs some consideration.




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Be aware of home demands interfering with your work. Don’t procrastinate work tasks by first doing some housework. Set yourself a target to complete a work task and when you’ve finished it then spend ten minutes doing the tidying.

Equally, don’t let work take over your home life – just because work is always there doesn’t mean you have to be. Finish about the time you normally would.

Walk away from your desk. Engage with your family and friends. A period of psychological recovery from work is vital to make sure you feel rested and productive for working from home tomorrow.The Conversation

Paula Brough, Professor and Director, Social & Organisational Psychology Research Unit, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.