The Voices of Low Income Australians
27 March 2006 at 12:03 pm
Despite a decade of strong economic growth many low income Australians have missed out on the benefits of this perceived prosperity, according to a new poverty study.
Called Experiencing Poverty: The Voices of Low-Income Australians the research forms the first stage of a project designed to develop new indicators of disadvantage for Australia in the new millennium.
The study, funded by the Australian Research Council, was conducted by a consortium of leading social researchers and welfare agency practitioners at the University of New South Wales’ Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC), ACOSS, Mission Australia, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Anglicare Sydney.
Focus groups were conducted with users of welfare services to find out first-hand about their living conditions and expectations.
The study asked a series of questions which includes: What do Australians in general, and low-income Australians in particular, regard as the essential components of a socially acceptable minimum standard of living and community participation today, for children, adults and households?
The report says that firstly there clearly are groups of people in Australia who have missed out on the increasing prosperity that over a decade of strong economic growth has brought to many others.
It says another striking finding concerns the modest nature of the aspirations that emerged. Those who participated had a keen awareness of what they and their families (particularly their children) had to go without as a result of the circumstances they were in.
It says that one finding that emerged time and again was the lack of affordability that confronts people who are trying to juggle too few resources to meet their needs.
After well over a decade of privatisation and user pays pricing policies, the study says it appears that many of those on low-income see their problems in terms of the high cost of items purchased, as much as in how much money they have to spend.
It found that many participants who lived in public housing had no hope of realising the ‘Australian dream’ of home ownership in the foreseeable future.
Other findings include the connections between housing, location and transport emerged as a factor that played a major role in determining the overall standard of living for many, as well as the reduced availability of bulkbilling making even basic medical services increasingly unaffordable.
Under the heading of general findings the report says money is still a very important determinant of the ability to achieve a decent standard of living, but it is not all about money, and many other factors, including access to services and information and being treated with dignity are also important.
The study found that the views of those who are missing out on what is needed to have a decent standard of living are relatively modest, although they include having access to adequate economic resources, to affordable housing in a clean and safe neighbourhood, to good local services, to transportation, to information and advice, and being treated with respect.
The study says that some of the more specific findings revealed new insights into the nature of deprivation and exclusion that were unexpected.
It says a lack of access to dental care was one issue that created considerable suffering over long periods and contributed to low self-esteem and reduced job prospects.
Mental health and other forms of disability were also factors that prevented people from overcoming other problems, particularly lack of employment. Lack of access to information, and to care and counselling services prevented people from participating more fully, economically and socially. The over-riding importance of accessible and affordable transport in allowing such participation was another factor that was often mentioned as important.
The study found that many young people (aged 25 or under) felt that even when they voiced their concerns, they were often not listened to. Many said that they wanted information about how to cope, but few people were able to listen to what they needed and provide guidance that they could relate to.
The researchers from the Social Policy Research Centre with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales are: Peter Saunders and Kelly Sutherland with Peter Davidson, Anne Hampshire, Susan King and Janet Taylor.
You can download the full report at www.sprc.unsw.edu.au/.