Report Highlights Entrenched Australian Poverty
17 October 2018 at 3:33 pm
With millions living below the breadline in Australia, a peak welfare body is calling for a complete overhaul of the employment system, at least two days a week of subsidised childcare and a lift to social security.
The Australian Council of Social Service’s (ACOSS) Poverty in Australia 2018 report revealed more than 3 million people were living below the poverty line.
Despite 27 years of uninterrupted growth, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said these findings demonstrated poverty was now a consistent part of Australian life.
“The evidence released today shows that through social security, housing and employment policies, as a nation we choose the level of poverty we are prepared to accept,” Goldie said.
She said to effectively tackle poverty, Australia needed to lift to social security, overhaul employment services, commit to full employment, and guarantee at least two days of early childhood care that is subsidised for people on low incomes.
The poverty line is measured at 50 per cent of a household’s disposable income, and in Australia this was defined as a single adult living on less than $433 a week, or $909 for a couple with two children, before housing costs.
The report found the poverty rate of children was higher than adults, sitting at 17.3 per cent, compared to 13.2 per cent of adults.
With 53 per cent of those below the poverty line reliant on social security payments, concerns were also raised in the report that most of these payments were well below the line, with private payments needed to escape poverty.
One person profiled in the report was Mary, a single mother from New South Wales, who said poverty was hindering her efforts to find a job.
“The government and jobactive providers should not assume that all jobseekers have internet access,” Mary said.
“I am a single parent, struggling to have credit on my simple/cheapest mobile phone, no internet access or apps on my mobile phone, currently homeless with a teenager, staying in a temporary accommodation.”
Internationally, Australia has the 14th highest poverty rate out of 34 Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries, despite being rated the second wealthiest country in the world in terms of wealth per adult.
“With strong signs in the economy, and an improved federal budget position, the top priority for any prime minister must be to end poverty in all its forms, not deliver another round of tax cuts,” Goldie said.
“It is time that our politicians stopped talking about themselves and turned their attention to the issues that the community cares about.”
A spokesperson for Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher told Pro Bono News that few countries provide the broad welfare safety net that Australia does, and ultimately, the best form of welfare was a job.
“The government remains focused on jobs growth and is committed to a range of programs… to support disadvantaged individuals, families and communities to break the cycle of intergenerational welfare dependence,” the spokesperson said.
Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert criticised Coalition and Labor governments following the release of the report for their inaction on the issue.
“Since 2012, the Liberal and Labor parties have received over $100 million from corporations… but we can’t raise Newstart?” Siewert said.
She said the Greens had a bill before Parliament to raise Newstart and Youth Allowance by $75 a week, which would be debated on Thursday.
“When we see figures like these, I am at a loss as to why we won’t have multiparty support to pass this bill,” she said.
But Fletcher’s spokesperson said the welfare budget accounted for a third of the Commonwealth budget and needed to be managed carefully.
“The government does not believe in taxing and borrowing to expand welfare expenditure,” they said.