Senate Poverty Inquiry - NFP's Respond
7 July 2003 at 1:07 pm
Public hearings before the Senate Poverty Inquiry being held in Canberra have been given some tough words from Third Sector representatives and welfare agencies.
The Australian Council of Social Service proposed a three-stage plan that it says would halve child poverty and reduce overall poverty in Australia by a quarter in ten years.
ACOSS President Andrew McCallum told the hearing that one in six Australian children – around 740,000 kids – are at risk of poverty today. Overall, there are more than two million Australians in income poverty.
McCallum says that while the level of deprivation that poor people face in Australia is not worsening, there are more and more people who are forced
to go without the necessities that others take for granted.
He says in a country as rich as Australia there is no excuse for the level of poverty and hardship that surrounds us today. Australia needs a
long-term anti-poverty plan with firm targets that is supported by all major political parties and which involves the whole community.
ACOSS proposed a new national Anti-Poverty Commission that would set targets and monitor progress in wiping out child poverty and substantially reducing overall poverty through three stages:
1. Adequate incomes and improved living standards
The risk of poverty for around 1.5 million unemployed people, students, sole parent families, and jobless families with teenagers would be quickly reduced by rises in social security benefits and reductions in poverty traps.
A $30 a week rise in the unemployment benefit of $190 a week – up to the frugal Age Pension payment.
Better health, housing and community services would also immediately improve living standards for disadvantaged families and individuals. For example, with 90,000 social security recipients currently spending over 50% of their income in rent, providing affordable housing in areas where there are jobs would lift many out of poverty.
2. Jobs and employment assistance
Over the medium-term, generating more jobs and helping jobless people better compete for the jobs that are available by providing
them with work experience and skills training would further reduce the number of jobless families in poverty. Current policies are failing to make substantial inroads into long-term unemployment. The number of people receiving unemployment benefits long-term is higher now (380,000) than seven years ago (350,000).
3. Education and capacity building
People with limited education, skills and full-time employment experience are more likely to fall into poverty. A cost-effective anti-poverty strategy for the long-term is to invest in education for disadvantaged children and ‘second-chance’ education & training for adults.
McCallum says Australia needs to address the social and economic problems of severely depressed communities such as some Indigenous communities, large housing estates and areas of regional decline.
Terry McCarthy the President of the social justice committee for the St Vincent de Paul Society , one of the largest welfare agencies in Australia also addressed the public hearing.
McCarthy says poverty is still found in the traditional areas such as housing estates in inner city areas, it is also found in the new growth areas on the outskirts of cities where people are forced to live in areas away from public transport, jobs and adequate services such as education, health and housing.
In the last 20 years Australia has moved from an egalitarian nation, based on European social values of accepting that society is designed for the common good to one increasingly focussed on the pursuit of the individual and the belief in the free market to solve all problems. The free market was never designed as a social tool.
He says his organisation is suggesting that politicians of all persuasions in all jurisdictions cast aside “the blame game” and develop a vision to restore these Australian values and sense of equality by restoring not only a fair go but an equality of opportunity.
St Vincent’s and a number of other organisations offered similar recommendations to the Senate Inquiry.
the development of a national strategy for the alleviation of poverty and the elimination of child poverty.
national forum for the development and implementation of a national strategy. This forum to include all stakeholders, including state and federal governments, business, trade unions, charity and welfare organisations.
the establishment of an administrative structure for setting benchmarks and ensuring that everyone meets his or her obligations.
If you would like an electronic copy of the ACOSS and/or the St. Vincent de Paul Society submissions just send us an e-mail to email@example.com.