Welfare Charity Slams ‘Poverty Shaming’
9 January 2017 at 3:25 pm
Welfare charity Anglicare has condemned recent “poverty shaming” targeting elderly citizens in the wake of changes to the aged pension.
In an opinion piece published by Fairfax on Saturday, Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers called on the nation to celebrate the contributions made by elderly citizens, regardless of their economic status, rather than penalising or shaming them.
“Those pensioners who have spent their entire lives working and paying taxes, often in thankless jobs, deserve our compassion and our thanks,” Chambers said.
“They do not deserve to be subject to an assets test that fails to recognise their holistic contribution; and they certainly do not deserve to be ‘poverty shamed’ because in fact, they are far richer than we will ever be able to accurately measure.”
Her comments come in response to remarks made by Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm who called on Australians to drop their “sense of entitlement” to the aged pension.
Speaking on ABC radio he said people should plan for retirement and the pension should be used as a welfare payment, paid only to poor people, and was “nothing to be proud of”.
“Taking the pension shouldn’t be something you aspire to, it should be something you try to avoid because it signifies you’re in a low income group – in other words you’re poor, or close to poor,” Leyonhjelm said.
But Chambers told Pro Bono News that was “nonsense”.
“For a start it is a false dichotomy to just assume that people are either taxpayers or welfare recipients or pensioners,” Chambers said.
“Most of us would be takers and givers at different times in our life and in fact many, many Australians are taxpayers and get benefits at the same time in terms of child benefit and those kind of things. So it is very much a false dichotomy to just assume that we’re not all going to be in that position.
“The other thing is to say that people should be ashamed of being poor is… nonsense.
“As we pointed out in our article, we had three fantastic women who were all drawing an aged pension in our volunteer awards this year. One was actually sitting with people who had lost a child to suicide in the days, hours and weeks after that, an absolutely invaluable job, and yet by the senator’s remarks that person should be ashamed of herself because she is on an aged pension.
“The other thing is… older people do tend to be fairly proud and to have those comments pointed at you at a time when you are quite vulnerable just due to your age or just due to perhaps not having a lot of money, it just seems to be completely thoughtless.”
The senator’s comments followed backlash over the federal government’s changes to the pension assets test which came into effect on 1 January.
An estimated 330,000 Australians had their pensions cut and 90,000 of them lost it entirely following the move.
However 171,000 pensioners will get an additional $30 a fortnight on average as their assets will no longer affect their pensions.
The government argues that 90 per cent of pensioners will either benefit or be unaffected by the changes.
Chambers said Anglicare was not “overly concerned” about the changes to the aged pension, but was concerned that people were being made to feel ashamed.
“We would actually be supportive of moving the, I guess we’d call it middle class welfare… particularly as it was placed for people who are doing it really tough. It’s such a well rehearsed argument about how little Newstart is, I could rattle off statistics, but you know if the money that was being reclaimed from pensioners could be put back into the welfare budget at the lower end, that would be great,” she said.
“Our main point [was] that he [Leyonhjelm] had just come in and made it such a point that this should be something that people should be ashamed of.
“I think people should be proud to live in a country where we have an age pension, and be proud to be able to draw it because it means they’ve got to a good healthy age.”
Chambers said it was a question of language.
“I think a lot of our language assumes that older people are a bit of a drain and yet there have been reports that show in sort of terms of the amount of child care they contribute, volunteering, all those kinds of things, are really very valuable to the economy, and of course they’re spending, so they are actually really helping the economy,” she said.
“I think we’ve got to call the language every time we hear it which is what we were doing with our opinion piece, because we’ve got to move the language and the assumption that welfare is a dirty word, it is not a dirty word, it is the mark of a very civilised society that we care for people when they can’t get work, or can’t work or have finished working due to age.
“We’ve got about 90 comments on our Facebook page… people do seem to have come out fighting. In the majority of the comments, people are angry at the senator who is on a very good income, many were pointing out, and will have a very good pension himself, and yet he has seen fit to aim some of these comments at people who have taken a long time to get to an age pension and are rightfully drawing it.”
Chambers said the issue was also linked to the Centrelink debt collection “debacle” and the assumption there was money to be regained in terms of debts.
“Each time that has been put forward in the budget we have pointed out that really it would be very difficult to bring the budget back into the black just via reclaiming welfare debts,” she said.
“It is proving once again that there is this whole idea that this is where we can save the budget and it is people at the lower end of our income that are being asked to mend the budget which just seems a bit of a nonsense and… [is] another part of that poverty shaming.”