'Do Not Be America' - Anti-Poverty Campaigner Warns Community Sector
25 June 2015 at 12:25 pm
US anti-poverty campaigner Linda Tirado has challenged the community sector in Australia to treat society’s most vulnerable with respect and to be better than America in delivering social services, in her keynote address to the ACOSS conference in Sydney today.
Speaking candidly about her own experiences of poverty, the Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America author reflected on life for the working poor in America and Australia and addressed the common misconceptions about people living in poverty.
Tirado told delegates that despite America having 45 million people living in poverty, Australia is doing no better per head of the population with some 2.5 million people in poverty.
“Forty five million Americans live in poverty – that’s twice the population of your entire country. But your proportions are the same as ours,” Tirado said.
“You’re not morally doing anything better than we are and what’s worse – you actually have a safety net.
“You have 700,000 children living in poverty and you have one of the strongest social safety nets in the western world.
“And with that safety net you have 2.5 million people living in poverty.
“Do not be America. You have a collective and you look after each other which is precious – do not let them [the government] chip that away because you might save a little money if you could sell some uranium.
“Make sure that they know what they are trading when they make their policies – you are the people who know that.”
Tirado became recognised internationally when she published a comment online about the poverty trap in America, which went viral and was eventually developed into a book.
She opened up to delegates about the difficulties and trauma associated with being trapped in the poverty cycle and spoke of the deep intersection between privilege, poverty and inequality.
“We don’t want sympathy, we just want a little respect,” Tirado said.
“I challenge you as social workers to check all of your boxes. And I challenge you to understand that as horrifying and depressing as your work is… It’s you we need the most because it’s you who actually care.”
ACOSS Chief Executive Dr Cassandra Goldie said she was delighted to have Tirado address the conference.
“Linda Tirado puts the lived experience of poverty front and centre of the conversation about work and welfare,” Dr Cassandra Goldie said.
“Linda also sounds a salutary warning about the dangers of eroding our universal health and education services and the social safety net.
“As ACOSS’ Inequality in Australia report highlighted, these institutions have protected Australia from more extreme inequality and must not be eroded,” Dr Goldie said.
The conference will run across Thursday and Friday and will feature speakers from community, government and business and those who have experienced life below the poverty line.
Follow the conversation on Twitter #ACOSSconf2015