Australia to Learn from UK Experience of Poverty and Inequality?
22 May 2014 at 11:23 am
UK philanthropic leader and author Julia Unwin will meet with Federal and State MPs including Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews on issues around poverty and inequality during her visit to Australia this week.
Unwin will be meeting with Government MPs and groups including the Business Council of Australia, ACOSS and VCOSS to discuss the challenges of poverty and inequality from her experiences in the UK and will deliver a public lecture on the future of philanthropy.
Unwin is the Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT) and the author of Why Fight Poverty?,which looks as the impact of austerity measures in the UK and lessons in addressing poverty and inequality.
The visit comes as Australia considers attitudes towards people experiencing poverty, re-defining some important relationships, including those between the Commonwealth and the States, and between the government and its citizens.
Unwin said that shifts outlined in the Federal Budget were important because they mirror the experience in the UK and they raise important questions about the place of strategic philanthropy in contemporary society.
Unwin said one likely consequence was that family background and “capacity to pay” would increasingly determine the pathways of young people into education and work.
“There is often a tendency for polarisation in these debates, for instance when Australians are defined as ‘lifters’ or ‘leaners’ rather than as citizens with a common stake in the prosperity of all.
“Concern about poverty, opportunity and inequality is not the preserve of the left or the right, but all too readily, prescriptions can become divided along these rather crude and misleading lines,” Unwin said.
Unwin will be visiting Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra on a two-week tour arranged by the Reichstein Foundation, the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Jobs Australia.
Pro Bono Australia Founder Karen Mahlab is moderating a Melbourne Forum with Julia Unwin today hosted by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and the Reichstein Foundation.
Coinciding with her visit, Unwin has released a discussion paper, Poverty, inequality and a modern social contract relevant for a changing world.
In it she acknowledged a serious debate about the very existence of poverty, particularly when contrasting the relatively well-off lives of those in the developed world with those in developing countries.
However in countries like Australia, and the UK, she said there was also a reality of poverty which could not be dismissed as simply playing with proportions and measurements.
“Australia has enjoyed the largest real increase in incomes of any OECD country over the last 30 years, apart from Ireland. Education levels are the highest in Australia’s history and labour force participation levels have risen over time.
“But Australia ranks above the OECD average on a number of key measures of inequality.”
Unwin said that while it was once true that employment could offer a reliable route out of poverty, this was no longer the case. Half of the households in poverty in the UK contained someone who was working.
“Where people live also has a major impact on poverty. The costs of food, fuel, finance, housing and childcare in the UK have all gone up, leaving poorer households struggling. The lack of flexibility in poorer peoples’ budgets makes debt an inconvenient truth in all budgets, frequently proving to be the most expensive element of a weekly budget.
“The solutions to poverty are neither straightforward nor easy. They require effort by employers, businesses, regulators and professionals, and by government at every level,” Unwin said.
“The idea of a social contract – implicitly or explicitly – defines a relationship between the state, the citizens, the market and the community.”
The discussion paper argues for an updated social contract, shaped by national and local circumstances.
“At its simplest, a new settlement is a shared understanding about mutual expectations and obligations between three partners: the state (local, state and federal), the market (business) and the family, community and voluntary sector.
“This is a defining moment for philanthropy. As the boundaries between sectors are re-drawn, and the pressures on the poorest households increase, philanthropy, applied strategically, can be game-changing.” she said.
View an infographic on poverty and inequality in Australia by the Reichstein Foundation here.