3 million Australians are currently living in poverty. This is the second highest for an OECD country by percentage.
Despite the continuous rise of economic growth over the past two decades as well as a safety net of welfare payments and social services in Australia, we still find ourselves with more than 12% of Australians living in a state of poverty. That’s an eighth of the ‘lucky’ country.
There are currently many ways of defining poverty.
The current global poverty line is $1.90 a day according to FoodBank. However, we must remember that poverty looks much different in different parts of the world and that the cost of living is also different.
The Australian Council of Social Service use a monetary figure and say that to be living on $420 a week for a single adult is living in the harsh circumstances of poverty. Considering the average price of rent for a unit in Melbourne is $360, that leaves $60 dollars to pay electricity, gas, water, transport, and then there’s food. God forbid they get ill and require medicine.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics show in their Household Expenditure Survey for 2015-16 that people living in poverty generally cannot afford to heat their homes and are often forced to sell or pawn belongings to cover emergency needs. Many go without meals and seek assistance from welfare organisations just to get by.
And poverty isn’t going away anytime soon.
The Australian social security payment system helps anyone who is in desperate need of money. However, ACOSS shows that most, if not all social security payments fall well below the poverty line. The Youth Allowance and Newstart Allowance both fall more than $200 short of the poverty line, which is not sufficient to sustain the current cost of living.
Poverty is not a simple thing. There are many underlying contributors to poverty including food security and access to education and employment. All of which are currently addressed by separate government departments without the cohesion required for effective action.
In 2002, the Senate put in an extensive inquiry into the issue of poverty, undoubtedly spending millions of tax payer money on this project.
One key recommendation backed by both ACOSS and Catholic Social Services arising from the study was “That a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy be developed at the national level.” The result of which has simply been our government remaining plonked on their posteriors, taking no actions whatsoever.
Fifteen years have passed and no official targets or policy has been set to ensure that this country moves towards ameliorating the dire circumstances of 2.3 million of our fellow Australians, 600,000 of which are vulnerable children.
While we mull over the homeless in Melbourne’s CBD, we neglect to acknowledge that they are merely the tip of an impoverished iceberg. If we do not begin to collaborate across the sectors of government and address this far reaching issue, Australia will be known as ‘down under’ the poverty line.
It is time for a National Anti-Poverty Strategy (NAPS) to replace the naps taken by our governments, past and present, when they should have been addressing this pressing issue of poverty.