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The stories and struggles behind entrenched disadvantage

10 August 2021 at 8:30 am
Maggie Coggan
A four-year project addressing and understanding the cause of entrenched disadvantage has released its final report 

Maggie Coggan | 10 August 2021 at 8:30 am


The stories and struggles behind entrenched disadvantage
10 August 2021 at 8:30 am

A four-year project addressing and understanding the cause of entrenched disadvantage has released its final report 

When five-months’ pregnant Jo was attacked by her partner, the only thing she had time to grab was her four-year-old daughter, Billie. 

“I left the house so quickly I had nothing,” Jo said. 

It wasn’t the first time her partner had been abusive, and after seeking safety at an aunt’s house, she decided to leave her partner for good. 

“I went onto the Centrelink website to apply for a crisis support payment… But my phone was damaged during the fight with my ex-partner and that is making it difficult to complete the online form. It is way too complicated anyway,” she said.  

“I called Centrelink instead and after being on hold for an hour the call was cut off.” 

Getting to a physical office wasn’t easy either, with the closest Centrelink a long bus ride and walk away. 

Jo and Billie waited for 50 minutes before Billie became too distressed to wait any longer. 

“In the end I couldn’t take it anymore and we left,” she said. 

“We missed the seven-day crisis payment window and I was no longer eligible for this support. I felt exhausted.” 

Without stable work and housing, Jo found it incredibly difficult to care for a young child and deal with an abusive ex-partner. 

And when she did try to seek support from community and government services, their systems were often complicated to navigate. 

She said it was also exhausting to retell her story to so many different services and people without ever getting a result.    

Jo’s story is one of many that has been used as part of the 100 Families WA, a collaborative research project between eight not-for-profit community providers and the University of Western Australia (UWA) to better understand the lived experience of poverty, entrenched disadvantage and social exclusion across the state. 

Over the course of four years, researchers collected extensive data from a diverse range of people with lived experience of poverty and entrenched disadvantage, compiling it into a final report.

The data included surveys with up to 400 families taking part, fortnightly interviews with 100 families, and focus groups. The project has also released an online tool that allows viewers to virtually explore the stories of the families in greater detail.   

Key findings from the research were that multiple and compounding adverse life events such as homelessnes, mental illness or addiction deeply entrenched disadvantage; even though families reached out to family, friends, and community services, they faced barriers to access; and that positive experiences with services were when families felt like they were being listened to and respected. 

Professor Paul Flatau, director of the Centre for Social Impact UWA, told Pro Bono News that one of the key takeaways from the project was the need for services to work better with the people trying to access them. 

“We did those interviews to get a different viewpoint… to try and get service providers to imagine themselves not as a service under contract to the government, but as an agency that is working with the person… to achieve the best possible outcomes for that family, for that person,” Flatau said. 

Lived experience is key

Flatau said that something that made 100 Families so unique was how central the people with lived experience were to the project. 

He said that while the project started with a group of lived experience consultants for the study, their role became more and more involved as time went on.  

“Instead of this group consulting into the study, they became part of the study, then became part of the project team, then became people who were running the show,” he said. 

“It’s beyond all the facts and figures… it’s all of these quotes and the stories that are given in more detail… that really provide an extra picture that’s really important.”

He said that while collecting quantitative data was important, it was also about really listening to what people had to say about their experience of poverty and disadvantage. 

“By doing those fortnightly interviews… you really are listening to people and you’re engaging in a conversation,” he said.

“And that conversation means that you hear more of the person’s voice rather than their response to questions that you’re giving them.” 

The report also outlined a list of calls to action that the WA community, service providers, and state and federal governments could take to address entrenched disadvantage and strengthen communities. 

These included supporting people to achieve goals in their own way, elevating the role and voice of people with lived experience, and ensuring every Australia has an adequate income to meet their needs. 

A full copy of the report can be found here.


If you, or anyone you know is facing domestic violence, call 1800 RESPECT for support.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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One comment

  • Sarah Hassell says:

    The question needs to be asked is how are the providers using there funding. If you live in Innaloo and get allocated to midland then recieveva letter not an email saying we couldn’t contact you so we believe you no longer need our services, the service provider had my email and contact number.

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