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We don't have poverty here in Australia, do we?

11 October 2016

We don’t have poverty here in Australia…do we?

A recent Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) report found that 13.3% of the Australian population is living in poverty. Yes, here in Australia, we have 2.9 million people living below the poverty line. In particular, they reported a significant rise in the number of children living below the poverty line.

Goal One of the Global Goals compels all Governments to end poverty in all its forms everywhere (you can read more about it here). There’s still a prevailing view that poverty means living below the extreme poverty line of US$1.25 a day and while under the Millennium Development Goals we managed to halve the rate of extreme poverty, poverty as a problem still persists. The poverty line is context dependent and can be adjusted for each country based on the cost of living. In 2014 the poverty line for an adult was $426.30 a week, or $895.22 for a couple with children.

There have been many suggestions of how to tackle this problem, from getting more people into the workforce to reforming our social services system. The report found that while most people relied on social security payments as their primary income, a third of people relied on wages. That’s right, one third of the Australians living in poverty are in the work force. However, in light of recent Government discussions around social security, this report encourages us to re-examine our approach towards people living in financial hardship, and reminds us that we all have work to do.

This week in parliament we’ve seen some debate around social services, the national disability insurance scheme and fair work. Each of these topics ties into the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable Australians and the outcome of these discussions – particularly social services – can have a very strong impact on some of the 2.9 million people living in poverty. Recognising the incredible diversity in our population, it is crucial that our social systems are culturally applicable and accessible to those living in remote or low-socioeconomic areas. While these areas may need it the most, they are often under-resourced and often get left behind.

So what can we do? Goal One outlines a number of solutions including the implementation of nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all with comprehensive cover to all poor and vulnerable people by 2030, protection of the population from climate, social and economic shocks, and encourages the development of comprehensive and inclusive policies implemented at all levels to target poverty eradication.

While we in Australia may not be at risk of climate-related disasters in the way that some of our Asia-Pacific neighbours are, we have watched in sadness as we’ve seen climate change impact our farmers. From drought to excessive rain, our farming community have been at the forefront of these weather events and have experienced devastating loss. It has long been recognised that the Government struggles to provide income support to farmers, with critics arguing that there is not enough knowledge about how many farmers are in poverty, or why. While our Government is already faced with many tricky decisions, those decisions are much harder without inadequate information. For this issue to be properly addressed and for necessary and targeted support to be provided, we must seek more knowledge on poverty within the farming community, and integrate the impact of climate change in with any solutions that may be suggested. This can be supported by all levels of Government.

In addition, national, state and local Governments all have a responsibility for ensuring our population is supported, and has the support they need to thrive.

To be successful, Government solutions must be culturally sensitive, particularly with our indigenous population, and must recognise the reality of poverty. By imploring actions at a regional level, we can acknowledge that poverty is not simply a national issue, it’s a systemic issue and that our actions as a developed nation also affect less fortunate countries in our region. Closer to home however, all levels of Government are responsible for implementing policies which support everyone, but must also recognised the gendered nature of poverty. While more women are part of the workforce in Australia, ABS data from 2012 tells us that 84% of these families were single mother families with only 55% of single mothers in the workforce compared to 72% of single fathers. In 50% of these single parent families, the youngest child was aged between 0 and 9 years of age.

Any Government strategy must be designed to support these families and implement a sustainable long term solution which helps families break the poverty cycle. The best way to do this? Education, and the creation of a system that empowers people through skills and employment. Goal 8 acknowledges the importance of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all, and this is crucial for breaking the poverty cycle.

Ultimately, our Government is elected to support us, and create the best possible Australia moving forward. This means that no one gets left behind.

The original article by the ACOSS can be found here.

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