Why the coronavirus shouldn’t stand in the way of the next wage increase



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Michael Keating, Australian National University

In the early 1970s, when rising inflation and unemployment tore through the economy, someone coined the aphorism “one man’s wage increase is another man’s job” (unfortunately, most of the talk was about men in those days).

It took off, in part because it appealed to common sense. If the price of something (workers) went up, employers would want would want less of them (workers).

In Harper, former head of the Fair Pay Commission.
ALAN PORRITT/AAP

Employers have used it to oppose every wage increase or improvement in working conditions in history, and still are.

Sometimes they are supported by widely respected economists, such as Ian Harper, who as head of the Fair Pay Commission in 2009 delivered Australia’s last freeze in minimum wages amid forecasts that unemployment was about to climb.

Now he and other economists are calling for another freeze, for the sake of jobs, in the downturn caused by the coronavirus.

Wages are more than prices

But the price of labour is different to other prices. While it represents the cost of buying a service, it also represents an income, one that bundled together with other incomes pays for the service.

When wages grow, spending grows (so-called “aggregate demand”), and so does the economy, as measured by gross domestic product.

Nevertheless, the standard neoclassical growth model used by the treasury and Reserve Bank doesn’t recognise this. Instead, it assumes that over the medium term economic growth is entirely determined by supply rather than demand, and that supply is a function of the three Ps: productivity, population and workforce participation.




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Demand is said to merely cause short term fluctuations around the medium term growth path, and it is thought to be the job of monetary and fiscal policy to iron out the fluctuations to avoid unnecessary inflation or unemployment.

There are a number of other peculiar things about the model. It assumes that there are constant returns to scale, that technological progress favours neither labour nor capital, and there is perfect competition.

These assumptions effectively mean the distribution of income between wages and profits is constant and can be ignored.

The model that continually gets it wrong

Fluctuations in wages growth are presumed to be cyclical, amenable to correction by by monetary policy (interest rates), with fiscal policy (tax and government spending) held in reserve.

The model hasn’t performed well.

Over the past decade the treasury and Reserve Bank have persistently overestimated wage growth.

Wage growth has almost halved during the time it was overestimated, and it seems likely this is related to a similar decline in the growth of GDP.



Treasury and the Reserve Bank overestimated wage growth because, when combined, the three Ps of productivity, population and workforce participation were growing strongly.

Their thinking was that if wage growth wasn’t climbing as expected, that was mainly due to a cyclical downturn. All that was needed were some interest rate cuts.

We’ve had 17 interest rate cuts in the past decade the treasury and Reserve Bank have continued to forecast wage growth while taking the cash rate all the way down from 4.75% to close to zero.

There are better models

A better model, used by post-Keynesian economists, treats economic growth as being determined by aggregate demand, both in the short and longer terms. Aggregate demand can be either wage or profit-led.

Wage growth can lead to growth in consumer spending, profit growth can lead to growth in business investment.

Profit growth can be enhanced by changes in the profit share of income, which is the other side of the wage share of income. When the wage share of income goes up, the profit share goes down.




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But profit growth can also be affected by capacity utilisation, which is the extent to which factories and the like are operating at their full capacity. The more consumers spend, the greater the rate of capacity utilisation and the greater are profits.

Very large increases in real wages can most certainly dent economic growth.

They cut profits and business investment by more than they increase consumer demand and capacity utilisation, as happened in the early 1970s when between 1973 and 1975 nominal wages increased at an average annual pace of 23.2 per cent and real wages increased at an average pace of 8.9 per cent – way ahead of annual productivity growth of 1.3 per cent.

But mostly, wage rises boost consumer demand by more than they cut business investment.

Indeed, they can actually push business investment higher. This is because profits are often more responsive to the increase in capacity utilisation that results from increased consumer demand than to a lower profit share.

We’ll need to boost incomes, if not wages

This seems to explain the economic stagnation we have experienced since the global financial crisis. Low wage growth has held back consumer demand, which has also held back business investment.

There are three possible policy responses.

One is to boost household incomes in a way that doesn’t involve boosting wages, perhaps by government payments and/or tax relief. A downside is that they add to the budget deficit and public debt.

Another is to try and increase wages. Tools could include include government support for higher wages, starting with support for a modest increase in the minimum wage case now before the Fair Work Commission.




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Longer term, a more effective and lasting increase in wages could be achieved by better education and training to better skill workers. These proposed courses of action are not mutually exclusive. We will probably need to adopt all three.

But we will need to understand that improving our economic circumstances will require a combination of wage increases and increased government support.

The more the government opposes wage increases, the more pressure there will be for it to increase spending and/or offer more tax relief if we want the economy to grow at its potential and to lift that potential.


These thoughts are developed in Low Wage Growth: Why It Matters and How to Fix It, Stephen Bell and Michael Keating, Australian Economic Review, December 2019.The Conversation

Michael Keating, Visiting Fellow, College of Business & Economics, Australian National University

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

When the Coronavirus Supplement stops, JobSeeker needs to increase by $185 a week



James Gourley/AAP

Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

The Morrison government’s changes to welfare payments were among its most significant responses to the coronavirus crisis.

In April, the new Coronavirus Supplement roughly doubled the level of benefits for unemployed people on the JobSeeker Payment (called Newstart until March) and a range of other working-age payments.

But this huge increase will not last, with the $550 fortnightly supplement due to expire in late September.

If we want to keep unemployed Australians out of poverty in future, significant changes will be required to the base rate of JobSeeker.

According to my analysis, an increase of $185 a week is needed.

Debate brewing over the future of JobSeeker

A political debate is now brewing about what happens next to the JobSeeker Payment.

Before coronavirus, there had been consistent calls across parliament, business and community groups to raise the rate of Newstart/JobSeeker, which has scarcely increased in real terms since 1994.




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Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears to be holding firm to the idea that the increased payments will stop later this year.

As he recently said,

we’ve put a COVID supplement in place for the period of the pandemic and that’s what we’ve budgeted for and that’s what our policy is.

But Labor and the Greens say there should be a permanent increase to the JobSeeker Payment (although they do not agree on an amount). Some Coalition MPs are also pushing for a boost.

Millions of Australians will need JobSeeker support

There are currently about 1.6 million Australians receiving the JobSeeker Payment, while the Coronavirus Supplement also goes to recipients of other payments, including Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit.

In December 2019, there were more than 400,000 people receiving these payments – and possibly more now.

It is also possible that many of the estimated 6.1 million people currently on JobKeeper will need to claim JobSeeker as the former is phased out. So, would the government really halve income support for more than two million people at the end of September?

As the Grattan Institute has pointed out, cutting income support in this way this would be “a recipe for a second downturn”.

The Coronavirus Supplement and the “benefit cliff”

While the Coronavirus Supplement is a crucial element of support for newly unemployed Australians, it is not well designed. This reflects the speed with which it was developed and the fact it was intended to be temporary.

The chart below shows how the supplement combines with the basic JobSeeker Payment for a single person, and how the package of assistance changes by hours of work per week, paid at the minimum wage of $19.49 per hour.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

What is most striking here is the “benefit cliff”: a person working 27 hours per week takes home around $720, but a person working 28 hours takes home $508. This is the result of the loss of the entire Coronavirus Supplement when the last dollar of JobSeeker is lost under the current income test.

This also creates significant anomalies: a person working up to three hours per week would have a higher disposable income than someone working 28 to 31 hours per week. And someone working 38 hours would have a lower disposable income than someone working between 19 and 27 hours.




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The same benefit cliff applies to couples, but because of the relaxation of the couple income test, the effect is not felt until higher levels of income.

At the moment, these anomalies and the benefit cliff are not very pressing because many people on payments will have reduced hours of work, if any.

But as workplaces open up and people return to employment, these design issues will become more problematic. Put simply, the Coronavirus Supplement in its current form should not be continued.

We need to increase the basic JobSeeker rate

This means that to continue to adequately support unemployed Australians and avoid a double dip economic downturn, the basic rates of payments need to be increased.

Last month, a Senate inquiry released its report into the adequacy of Newstart/JobSeeker.

The report by non-government members made 27 recommendations, including:

once the Coronavirus Supplement is phased out, the Australian Government increase[s] the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance and Parenting Payment rates to ensure that all eligible recipients do not live in poverty.

They also recommended that

the Australian Government set a national definition of poverty. The Government should immediately commence work in collaboration with academic experts and the community sector to determine this definition.

Keeping people out of poverty

Clearly, we need to look at how to make the payment more adequate immediately, without waiting for an inquiry to determine how much is enough – a process that could take months.

There is a simple benchmark already available that can be used. This is the rate of pension paid to the aged, people with disability and carers. Including supplements, a single pensioner currently receives up to $944.30 per fortnight.

When the Coronavirus Supplement ends, a single person on the JobSeeker Payment will receive $574.50 (including the Energy Supplement) – a gap of $370 per fortnight or $185 per week.

Setting working-age payments at the same rate as pensions will significantly simplify our overly complex system and provide a consistent treatment of all adults.

It will reduce incentives for people to seek to qualify for higher payments.

It would also mean that if the federal government sets up an inquiry into poverty standards – as the Senate recommended – we would not have to worry about anomalies in current payment rates. We could focus on clear principles of adequacy for all Australians instead.

JobSeeker must increase by about $185 a week

In January, the Australian Council of Social Service called for a minimum $95 a week increase to Newstart.




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This would have applied at the time to around 850,000 people, at a cost of about $3.8 billion a year.

I estimate that an increase of $185 per week could cost around $7.4 billion, but this does not factor in the projected increase in the number of people needing support.

If we have more than two million people on working age payments in September this year, this would imply a rough budget cost of around $17 billion in a full year.

Raising JobSeeker payments is a substantial budgetary cost. But the current cost of the Coronavirus Supplement over a full year is likely to exceed $30 billion.

The alternative of cutting rates is also extremely costly: a deep increase in poverty among millions of Australian households and the likelihood of a double dip recession.The Conversation

Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

Private health premium increases might be the lowest in years, but that doesn’t mean they’re justified



Those facing large price increases might drop or downgrade their cover.
Wayhome studio/Shutterstock

Nathan Kettlewell, University of Technology Sydney

Every year private health insurers raise premiums and every year we rue the hit to our hip pocket. This cycle is heavily regulated: insurers apply to the health minister who must approve premium hikes unless deemed contrary to the public interest. Premiums then change on April 1.

This time the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, has managed to keep average premium growth to 2.92% – the lowest in 19 years. This news comes two weeks after he rejected an industry proposal to increase premiums by 3.5%.

While the government celebrates this apparently modest price rise, consumers are right to point out that premium growth continues to outstrip inflation and wage growth. How do insurers justify this?




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The case for higher premiums

Australians have come to expect that come April 1 each year, their private health insurance costs will go up – often by a lot.

These increases have been substantially more than wage growth or inflation. Between 2011 and 2019, the cumulative growth in nominal premiums (before rebates) was 49%. Over the same period wages grew by 21% and CPI by 16%.

Insurers have justified the growth in premiums by pointing out that benefits – the money private health insurers pay out when we go to hospital or have treatment – have also grown substantially.

Benefits grew on average 5.3% per year between 2014-2019. However, while earlier this decade benefit growth consistently outpaced premiums, this is no longer the case.

Growth in benefits is due to both higher medical costs and more claims. In fact, benefits per service have hardly changed since 2014 and have actually fallen for prostheses (such as hip and knee replacements), which highlights the importance of growth in number of claims.

Insurers are also facing growing cost pressure due to the exodus of young people from insurance and an ageing insurance pool.

Traditionally young people have cross-subsidised the higher expenses of older people, but increasingly they are deciding that private insurance is a bad deal. In the past 12 months, the number of people aged 20-34 with private hospital cover has declined by almost 50,000.




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Are insurers’ profits too high?

Insurers can point out that their profit margins are not unusually high compared to other forms of insurance. Figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority show that in 2019 after-tax profits were 9.5% of premium revenue for general insurers. Meanwhile, after-tax profits for private health insurers were 5.6% (6.4% for for-profit funds).

Insurers can also point out that their net margins and benefits-to-premiums revenue ratios have been relatively stable over the past decade. Against this, growth in premiums has mostly acted to sustain profit margins rather than extend them.

But does this really matter for assessing price hikes? While shareholders would like to maintain the margins they’re accustomed to, there’s nothing intrinsically meaningful about historical figures.

The profits in one sector also don’t entitle insurers to the same profit in a different sector.

Ultimately, it’s hard to know what the “right” level of profit is. For now, private health insurance remains a relatively profitable industry.

What will the price increase mean for you?

Forty-four percent of Australians have private hospital cover and 53% have general treatment cover for things like dental and optical. For these Australians, the health minister estimates singles will pay an average of A$35 more per year (A$0.68 per week) and families A$103 more per year (A$1.99 per week).

It’s important to recognise that the 2.92% figure is a weighted industry average. Some policies will increase by more (and less) than 2.92%. You will find out by how much your plan is increasing early next year.

Those facing large price increases might downgrade their cover and some may drop it altogether. If healthier people drop out of insurance, that will put upward pressure on premiums in the future.

Australia’s private health insurance system relies on young people who don’t use their insurance to subsidise older Australians who do.
wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

So, is the 2020 premium increase justified?

With the information at hand, 2.92% seems reasonable by historical standards. Growth in benefits has been declining since 2017 and this should flow to premiums.

Going forward, the government will need to do more than crack down on premium-setting if it wants to arrest growing costs. The biggest pressures are from rising hospital and medical fees and an ageing insurance pool.




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Recent attempts to reduce costs by negotiating a better deal with medical device manufacturers was a good move, although insurers claim it failed to meaningfully lower their costs because manufacturers increased the volume of devices sold.

Higher premium rebates for young people are more dubious since rebates are only cost-effective if they cause lots of people to take up insurance who wouldn’t otherwise.

It’s been 21 years since the last Productivity Commission inquiry into the private health insurance industry. Perhaps it’s time for another one.The Conversation

Nathan Kettlewell, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Economics Discipline Group, University of Technology Sydney

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

Does eating dairy foods increase your risk of prostate cancer?



If you’re a male who enjoys dairy, there’s no reason to stop having it.
From shutterstock.com

Rosemary Stanton, UNSW

Research Checks interrogate newly published studies and how they’re reported in the media. The analysis is undertaken by one or more academics not involved with the study, and reviewed by another, to make sure it’s accurate.


Recent headlines have warned a diet high in dairy foods may increase men’s risk of prostate cancer.

The news is based on a recent review published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association which claimed to find eating high quantities of plant-based foods may be associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer, while eating high quantities of dairy products may be associated with an increased risk.

But if you’re a man, before you forego the enjoyment and known nutritional benefits of milk, cheese and yoghurt, let’s take a closer look at the findings.

What the study did

This study was a review, which means the researchers collated the findings of a number of existing studies to reach their conclusions.

They looked at 47 studies which they claim constitute a comprehensive review of all available data from 2006-2017. These studies examined prostate cancer risk and its association with a wide variety of foods including vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, meat (red, white and processed), milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt, total diary, calcium (in foods and supplements), eggs, fish and fats.




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Some studies followed groups of men initially free of prostate cancer over time to see if they developed the disease (these are called cohort studies). Others compared health habits of men with and without prostate cancer (called case-control studies). Some studies recorded the incidence of prostate cancer in the group while others concentrated on the progression of the cancer.

For every potential risk factor, the reviewers marked studies as showing no effect, or an increased or decreased risk of prostate cancer. The results varied significantly for all the foods examined.

For cohort studies (considered more reliable than case-control studies), three studies for vegan diets and one for legumes recorded decreased risk of prostate cancer. For vegetarian diets and vegetables, some reported decreased risk and some recorded no effect. Fruits, grains, white meat and fish appeared to have no effect either way.

An increased risk was reported for eggs and processed meats (one study each), red meat (one out of six studies), fats (two out of five), total dairy (seven out of 14), milk (six out of 15), cheese (one out of six), butter (one out of three), calcium (three out of four from diet and two out of three from supplements) and fats (two out of five).

Notably, some very large cohort studies included in the review showed no association for milk or other dairy products. And most case-control studies, though admittedly less reliable, showed no association.

The authors also omitted other studies published within the review period which showed no significant association between dairy and prostate cancer.

A person’s weight likely has more influence on their risk of developing prostate cancer than whether or not they eat dairy.
From shutterstock.com

So the inconsistency in results across the studies reviewed – including large cohort studies – amount to very limited evidence dairy products are linked to prostate cancer.

Could it be vitamin D?

In earlier research, a link between milk and prostate cancer has been attributed to a high calcium intake, possibly changing the production of a particular form of vitamin D within the body.

Vitamin D is an important regulator of cell growth and proliferation, so scientists believed it may lead to prostate cancer cells growing unchecked. But the evidence on this is limited, and the review adds little to this hypothesis.




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Perhaps the review’s most surprising omission is mention of the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) Continuous Update Project report on prostate cancer. This rigorous global analysis of the scientific literature identified much stronger risk factors that should be considered as possible confounding factors.

For example, the evidence is rated as “strong” that being overweight or obese, and being tall (separate to weight), are associated with increased risk of prostate cancer. The exact reasons for this are not fully understood but could be especially significant in Australia where 74% of men are overweight or obese.

A new Australian study found a higher body mass index was a risk factor for aggressive prostate cancer.

For dairy products and diets high in calcium, according to the WCRF, the evidence remains “limited”.




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It’s about the whole diet

It’s not wise to judge any diet by a single food group or nutrient. A healthy diet overall should be the goal.

That being said, milk, cheese and yoghurt are included in Australia’s Dietary Guidelines because of evidence linking them with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and excess weight. These dairy products are also sources of protein, calcium, iodine, several of the B complex vitamins, and zinc.

Evidence about dairy products and prostate cancer remains uncertain. So before fussing about whether to skip milk, cheese and yoghurt, men who wish to reduce their risk of prostate cancer would be better advised to lose any excess weight. – Rosemary Stanton


Blind peer review

I agree with the author of this Research Check who highlights there is a high degree of variability in the results of the studies examined in this review.

While the authors searched three journal databases, most comprehensive reviews search up to eight databases. Further, the authors did not undertake any assessment of the methodological quality of the studies they looked at. So the results should be interpreted with caution.

Although the authors concluded higher amounts of plant foods may be protective against prostate cancer, the figure presented within the paper indicates more studies reported no effect compared to a decreased risk, so how they came to that conclusion in unclear. For total dairy they present a figure showing there were as many studies suggesting no effect or lower risk as there were showing higher risk.

Importantly, they did not conduct any meta-analyses, where data are mathematically pooled to generate and overall effect across all studies.

As the reviewer points out, many other important sources of high quality data have not been included and there are a number of recent higher quality systematic reviews that could be consulted on this topic. – Clare CollinsThe Conversation

Rosemary Stanton, Visiting Fellow, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW

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

Will a vegetarian diet increase your risk of stroke?



This is the first study to link a vegetarian diet to an increased risk of stroke. But the evidence isn’t strong enough to cause alarm.
From shutterstock.com

Evangeline Mantzioris, University of South Australia

Research Checks interrogate newly published studies and how they’re reported in the media. The analysis is undertaken by one or more academics not involved with the study, and reviewed by another, to make sure it’s accurate.

A UK study finding vegetarianism is associated with a higher risk of stroke than a meat-eating diet has made headlines around the world.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal last week, found people who followed vegetarian or vegan diets had a 20% higher risk of having a stroke compared to those who ate meat.

But if you’re a vegetarian, there’s no need to panic. And if you’re a meat eater, these results don’t suggest you should eat more meat.

While we don’t fully understand why these results occurred, it’s important to note the study only showed an association between a vegetarian diet and increased stroke risk – not direct cause and effect.




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What the study did and found

The researchers looked at 48,188 men and women living in Oxford, following what they ate, and whether they had heart disease or a stroke, over 18 years. The researchers grouped the participants according to their diets: meat eaters, fish eaters (pescatarians) and vegetarians (including vegans).

While vegan diets are quite different to vegetarian diets, the investigators combined these two groups as there were very small numbers of vegans in the study.

In their analysis, the researchers accounted for variables which are known risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including education level, smoking status, alcohol consumption, and physical activity.




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They found vegetarians had a 22% lower risk of heart disease than meat eaters. This is equivalent to ten fewer cases of heart disease per 1,000 vegetarians than in meat eaters over ten years.

Yet the vegetarians had a 20% higher rate of stroke, equivalent to three more strokes per 1,000 vegetarians compared to the meat eaters over ten years.

The decrease in heart disease risk seemed to be linked to lower body mass index (BMI), cholesterol levels, incidence of diabetes, and blood pressure. These benefits are all known to be associated with a healthy vegetarian diet, and are protective factors
against heart disease.

This study showed fish eaters (who did not consume meat) had a 13% lower risk of heart disease, but no significant increase in the rate of stroke when compared to meat eaters.

As with any study, there are strengths and weaknesses

The main strength of this study is that it closely followed a very large group of people over a long period of time.

The major weakness is that being an observational study, the researchers were not able to determine a cause and effect relationship.

So this study is not showing us vegetarian diets lead to increased risk of stroke; it simply tells us vegetarians have an increased risk of stroke. This means the association may be linked to other factors, aside from diet, which may be related to the lifestyle of a vegetarian.

The study’s authors suggest a difference in vitamin B12 levels between the vegetarian and meat-eating groups may have contributed to the results.
From shutterstock.com

And while vegetarian and vegan diets may be seen as generally healthier, vegetarians still may be eating processed and ultra-processed foods. These foods can contain high levels of added salt, trans fat and saturated fats. This study did not report on the whole dietary pattern – just the major food groups.

Another major weakness of this study is that vegans and vegetarians were grouped together. Vegetarian and vegan diets can vary considerably in nutrient levels.

So why would the vegetarian group have a higher stroke risk?

These kind of observational studies are unable to provide what scientists call “a mechanism” – that is, a biological explanation as to why this association may exist.

But researchers will sometimes offer a potential biological explanation. In this case, they suggest the differences in nutrient intakes between the different diets may go some way to explaining the increased risk of stroke in the vegetarian group.

They cite a number of Japanese studies which have shown links between a very low intake of animal products and an increased risk of stroke.




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One nutrient they mention is vitamin B12, as it’s found only in animal products (meat, fish, dairy products and eggs). Vegan sources are limited, though some mushroom varieties and fermented beans may contain vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anaemia and neurological issues, including numbness and tingling, and cognitive difficulties.

The authors suggest a lack of vitamin B12 may be linked to the increased risk of stroke among the vegetarian group. This deficiency could be present in vegetarians, and even more pronounced in vegans.

But this is largely speculative, and any associations between a low intake of animal products and an increased risk of stroke remain to be founded in a strong body of evidence. More research is needed before any recommendations are made.

What does this mean for vegetarians and vegans?

Vegetarians and vegans shouldn’t see this study as a reason to change their diets. This is the only study to date to have shown an increased risk of stroke with vegetarian or vegan diets.

Further, this study has shown overall greater benefits are gained by being vegetarian or vegan in its association with reduced risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, other studies have shown meat eaters – particularly people who eat large amounts of red and processed meats – have higher risk of certain cancers.




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Whether you’re an omnivore, pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to consider the quality of your diet. Focus on eating whole foods, and including lots of vegetables, fruits, cereals and grains.

It’s equally important to minimise the intake of processed foods high in added sugars, salt, saturated and trans fats. Diets high in these sorts of foods have well-established links to increased risk of heart disease and stroke. –Evangeline Mantzioris


Blind peer review

The analysis presents a fair and balanced assessment of the study, accurately pointing out that no meaningful recommendations can be drawn from the results. This is particularly so since the majority of the data was collected via self-reported questionnaires, which reduces the reliability of the results.

While in many cases the media has reported an increased stroke risk in vegetarians, total stroke risk was not actually statistically different between the groups. The researchers looked at two types of stroke: ischaemic stroke (where a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain is obstructed) and haemorrhagic stroke (where a blood vessel leaks or breaks).

A statistically significant increased risk in the vegetarian group was only seen in haemorrhagic stroke – and even there it’s marginal. Statistically, and in total numbers of people affected, the reduced heart disease risk in the vegetarian group is more convincing. –Andrew CareyThe Conversation

Evangeline Mantzioris, Program Director of Nutrition and Food Sciences, University of South Australia

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

ALP urges Fair Work Commission to give “substantial” minimum wage increase


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Labor opposition has called for a “substantial” increase in the minimum wage, in a submission lodged with the Fair Work Commission’s annual wage review.

But the ALP has not put a figure on the amount it believes would be appropriate.

With Bill Shorten making wages one of the centrepieces of his election pitch, the submission flags that an ALP government would rewrite the guidelines used by the commission in its wage setting.

“The Opposition accepts that the panel is constrained by the current legislative provisions, but no longer has confidence that these provisions have the capacity to deliver the wages growth that the lowest paid workers, and our economy, require,” the submission says.

The national minimum wage at present is $18.93 an hour, which is
$719.20 for a 38-hour working week.

The ACTU wants rises brought in over two years amounting to an
increase of 11.5%, that would take the minimum wage to nearly $42,000 a year.

It proposes a “living wage” of 60% of the median wage.

Under its proposal to the commission the minimum hourly rate would rise this year to $20.07, with the subsequent increase taking it to $21.17.

Labor has not yet released its full wages policy but while Shorten has spoken of a living wage, the opposition is not embracing the ACTU position, preferring to leave the onus on the FWC, under changed guidelines that would see the minimum wage boosted.




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In its submission, the opposition says too many people are not getting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. It points to years of wage stagnation, the collapse of bargaining, insecure work and
exploitation, and a minimum wage that traps people in poverty.

“A fair wage system is fundamental to a stronger economy too,” the
submission says. “Because the incomes of working people are what
drives confidence, demand and growth.

“The people most affected by this tribunal’s decision spend every
single dollar they earn. It’s their wages and their purchasing power that helps keep small businesses afloat”.

Labor says the FWC should recognise in its decision a number of
factors, including that “everything is going up except for wages”.

It points out that “since 2013 productivity has grown four times
faster than wages” and “since 2016 company profits have grown five
times faster than wages”.

The opposition argues that experience overseas shows significant
increases in the minimum wage can be made without costing jobs, and says persistent low wages growth is a “threat to consumer demand and the broader economy”.

The submission says that in the last five years the minimum wage
averaged 54.3% of median wages.

Shorten on Thursday said that apart from having a higher minimum wage, other initiative by a Labor government to improve wages would include restoring penalty rates, pressing for pay equity in feminised industries, and protecting labour hire workers and sub-contractors.

Scott Morrison said Shorten was either lying to people in saying he could do something about their wages – because he hadn’t explained how – or “if he’s telling the truth, then he is putting an enormous cost on small and family businesses that will force them to lay off staff. That is not good for the Australian economy.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

What’s behind the increase in bowel cancer among younger Australians?



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Bowel cancer was the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia in 2017.
from shutterstock.com

Suzanne Mahady, Monash University; Eleonora Feletto, Cancer Council NSW, and Karen Canfell, UNSW

Bowel cancer mostly affects people over the age of 50, but recent evidence suggests it’s on the rise among younger Australians.

Our study, published recently in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, found the incidence of bowel cancer, which includes colon and rectal cancer, has increased by up to 9% in people under 50 from the 1990s until now.

Our research examined all recorded cases of bowel cancer from the past 40 years in Australians aged 20 and over. Previous studies assessing bowel cancer incidence in young Australians have also documented an increase in the younger age group.




Read more:
Interactive body map: what really gives you cancer?


Bowel cancer includes cancer of the colon and rectum.
Wikimedia Commons

This trend is also being seen internationally. A study from the United States suggests an increase in bowel cancer incidence in people aged 54 and younger. The research shows rectal cancer incidence increased by 3.2% annually from 1974 to 2013 among those aged age 20-29.

Bowel cancers are predicted to be the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia this year. In 2018, Australians have a one in 13 chance of being diagnosed with bowel cancer by their 85th birthday.

Our study also found bowel cancer incidence is falling in older Australians. This is likely, in part, to reflect the efficacy of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, targeted at those aged 50-74. Bowel cancer screening acts to reduce cancer incidence, by detecting and removing precancerous lesions, as well as reducing mortality by detecting existing cancers early.

This is important, as bowel cancer has a good cure rate if discovered early. In 2010 to 2014, a person diagnosed with bowel cancer had a nearly 70% chance of surviving the next five years. Survival is more than 90% for people who have bowel cancer detected at an early stage.

That is why screening is so effective – and we have previously predicted that if coverage rates in the National Bowel Screening Program can be increased to 60%, around 84,000 lives could be saved by 2040. This would represent an extraordinary success. In fact, bowel screening has potential to be one of the greatest public health successes ever achieved in Australia.

Why the increase in young people?

Our study wasn’t designed to identify why bowel cancer is increasing among young people. However, there are some factors that could underpin our findings.

The increase in obesity parallels that of bowel cancer, and large population based studies have linked obesity to increased cancer risk.




Read more:
How obesity causes cancer, and may make screening and treatment harder


Unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, such as increased intake of highly processed foods (including meats), have also been associated with increased bowel cancer risk. High quality studies are needed to explore this role further.

Alcohol is also thought to be a contributor to increasing the risk of bowel cancer.

Alcohol is thought to contribute to an increased risk of bowel cancer.
from shutterstock.com

So, should we be lowering the screening age in Australia to people under the age of 50?

Evaluating a cancer screening program for the general population requires a careful analysis of the potential benefits, harms, and costs.

A recent Australian study modelled the trade-offs of lowering the screening age to 45. It showed more cancers would potentially be detected. But there would also be more colonoscopy-related harms such as perforation (tearing) in an extremely small proportion of people who require further evaluation after screening.

A lower screening age would also increase the number of colonoscopies to be performed in the overstretched public health system and therefore could have the unintended consequence of lengthening colonoscopy waiting times for people at high risk.




Read more:
Needless procedures: when is a colonoscopy necessary?


How to reduce bowel cancer risk

One of the most common symptoms of bowel cancer is rectal bleeding. So if you notice blood when you go to the toilet, see your doctor to have it checked out.

A healthy lifestyle including adequate exercise, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol intake and eating well, remains most important to reducing cancer risk.

Aspirin may also lower risk of cancer, but should be discussed with your doctor because of the potential for side effects including major bleeding.

Most importantly, we need to ensure eligible Australians participate in the current evidence-based screening program. Only 41% of the population in the target 50-74 age range completed their poo tests in 2015-2016. The test is free, delivered by post and able to be self-administered.The Conversation

Suzanne Mahady, Gastroenterologist & Clinical Epidemiologist, Senior Lecturer, Monash University; Eleonora Feletto, Research fellow, Cancer Council NSW, and Karen Canfell, Adjunct professor, UNSW

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

Turnbull government abandons $8.2 billion Medicare levy increase



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Treasurer Scott Morrison will say in a speech on Thursday that with a stronger economy, the fiscal position has improved compared with a year ago.
AAP/Luis Ascui

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government is scrapping its $A8.2 billion planned increase in the Medicare levy, declaring a stronger budget outlook means it is not needed to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The levy, the biggest new revenue measure in last year’s budget, had no foreseeable prospect of passing the Senate in full, because Labor only supported a rise for those with incomes of more than $87,000.

Abandoning the measure will give more credibility to the budget numbers, which will be carefully scrutinised by the credit-rating agencies, and enable the government to sharpen its differences with Labor in the election battle on tax.

The increase in the levy – which would have taken it from 2% to 2.5% of taxable income – was due to start from July 1 next year. The $8.2 billion revenue was over the forward estimates.

The budget will include income tax cuts. But while it kept the levy rise on the books the government faced the criticism that it would be giving with one hand and taking with the other.

Treasurer Scott Morrison will say in a speech on Thursday that with a stronger economy, the fiscal position has improved compared with a year ago.

“That is why we are now in a position to give our guarantee to Australians living with a disability and their families and carers that all planned expenditure on the NDIS will be able to be met in this year’s budget and beyond without any longer having to increase the Medicare levy,” he will tell an Australian Business Economists function.

The government has not abandoned its argument that Labor left a gap in the funding of the NDIS – which the ALP flatly denies. Morrison will stress: “What I am announcing today is that gap can now be made up over time by continuing to deliver a stronger economy and by ensuring the government lives within its means”.

In an upbeat address just under two weeks out from the May 8 budget, Morrison will say that the economy “is finally shaking off the dulling effects of the downturn in the mining investment boom.”

“Naturally, a stronger economy provides for a stronger budget.”

He will say that company profits were “savaged” in the long come-down from the mining investment boom. This took a heavy toll including on government revenues.

“During this time, businesses put their hands in their own pockets to keep their employees in jobs and provide the modest wage increases they could.

“Since then, the clouds have been lifting. The tangible evidence of this is found in the increased tax receipts to the Commonwealth.

“Tax receipts up until February were running $4.8 billion higher than we estimated at MYEFO in December, including $1.2 billion in higher individual tax receipts and $3 billion in higher company tax receipts.”

Morrison will also emphasise the government’s action in controlling spending, and point out that it has not relied on commodity price assumptions to prop up the budget.

Outlining some themes for the budget, Morrison will say it will see the government “living within its means”. It will continue to give priority to strengthening the economy, and that will “enable us to shore up the nation’s finances and guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on both now and into the future.

“Only a stronger economy, backed up by a government that knows how to live within its means, can provide a real guarantee on these essential services – Medicare, schools, hospitals, aged care and disability services.”

Morrison will say Labor’s proposal to raise the Medicare levy for those earning more than $87,000 and to increase the top marginal tax rate were not to fund the NDIS, but “just another tax increase on working Australians”.

“This is in addition to Labor already boasting of and getting ready to hike more than $200 billion in additional new taxes on Australians if they win power.

“Taxes on small businesses, taxes on retirees and pensioners, taxes on family trusts, taxes on mums and dads who negatively gear their investment properties and taxes on workers.

He will say Labor plans for higher taxes will weaken the economy, ”‘putting at risk the benefits, the jobs, the wages, the incomes and the essential services that depend on a stronger economy. And we all know Labor can never live within their means”.

The ConversationLabor is now expected to abandon its commitment to a rise in the levy for higher income earners.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Christians suffer in Iran’s ‘free nation,’ says Open Doors USA


Iran’s president claimed his country is a genuine cradle of liberty. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in New York for the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, reports MNN.

Ahmadinejad insisted that political opponents are free to demonstrate, refusing to acknowledge that opposition groups and Christians have been driven underground by a vicious government crackdown.

"When we discuss the subject of freedoms and liberty it has to be done on a comparative basis and to keep in mind that democracy, at the end of the day, means the rule of the majority, so the minority cannot rule," Ahmadinejad said.

President of Open Doors USA Carl Moeller says, "Any person that’s had any exposure to the realities of life in Iran would disagree with President Ahmadinejad."

Moeller says Ahmadinejad is the master of the big lie. "He’s a holocaust denier, for example. And it’s easy to deny something as long as you don’t have to [back it up with] evidence. In this case, it’s easy to say Iran is a free country because everybody who would dissent knows clearly that if they dissent, they would be sent to prison."

Iran is one of the most repressive places to be a Christian. It ranks second on Open Doors’ World Watch list of countries which persecute Christians. "We’ve talked, on this program, about those who have spent months in prison simply for converting to Christianity and suffered huge abuse because of it," says Moeller.

Despite this oppression, Moeller says many Iranians are turning to Christ. They’re responding to Christian radio and satellite television broadcasts. Some are reading about Christ on the Internet. Some young people are starting churches as a result.

Moeller says most Iranians are aware of it. "90 percent of Iranians are aware that Muslims are turning to faith in Jesus Christ and have first-hand knowledge of that. It’s an incredible statistic. And we see that the increase in persecution is a direct relationship with the growth of the church in Iran."

Report from the Christian Telegraph