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Anti-Poverty Week - poverty in Australia

Mother and child cooking together in a kitchen

Anti-Poverty Week is held every October. It is an annual event for those passionate about ending poverty to come together and raise awareness of the dire reality of poverty in Australia. On this page you will learn about poverty in Australia and what you can do to help make a difference.

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What is poverty?

Poverty is the state of not having enough income to meet your basic needs.

In Australia, there are more than 3.24 million people or 13.6% of the population living below the poverty line. That includes 774,000 or 1 in 6 children.

Those affected by poverty should be treated with respect and dignity, because poverty is not the fault of the individual. Poverty is caused by inequalities that restrict what people can do and limits their opportunities and choices. It is like living in a permanent state of lockdown.

The three main drivers of poverty are:

  • Access to employment,
  • The level of income support available for people with low or no incomes, and
  • Housing costs.

What it means to live with poverty

Poverty is about a lack of money, living week to week and not having access to savings. But it is also about a lack of other resources and opportunities – such as a good education or health services.

People living in poverty are often faced with terrible choices, like skipping meals in order to pay their rent, missing medications, or not heating or cooling their homes to afford their power bills.

Australia’s poverty line

The Poverty in Australia 2020 Report defines the poverty line as when a household’s disposable income (after tax and housing costs) is less than what is considered adequate to achieve an ‘acceptable’ standard of living. The poverty line works out to half of the ‘middle’ household disposable income.

In 2017-18, the poverty line was;

  • $457 a week for a single adult,
  • $731 for a sole parent with two children, or
  • $960 for a couple with two children.

It is also important to consider the ‘poverty gap’, or the difference between the incomes of people in poverty and the poverty line. The average poverty gap is $282 per week – that means that on average, the incomes of people in poverty are $282 per week less than the poverty line.

About 700,000 people in Australia live in entrenched poverty, meaning that they have experienced poverty continuously for the last four or more years. Many of Sacred Heart Mission’s clients live in entrenched poverty and need help to meet basic needs, such as nutritious meals, showers, laundry facilities and case management support to exit homelessness.

We know that because of Covid-19, poverty and food insecurity are getting worse. Foodbank Victoria’s Hunger Report 2020 Victoria’s Hunger Report 2020 highlights that 28% of Australians experiencing food insecurity in 2020 did not have issues accessing food before the pandemic.

Poverty and homelessness

Poverty puts relentless pressure on people. When that pressure builds up, people can be pushed into homelessness. This is a big problem in Australia – at least 116,000 Australians don’t have a place to call home on any given night and 190,000 households are on waiting lists for social housing.

Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot in April 2021 reviewed 74,000 rental properties and found that there were only three properties in the whole of Australia that were affordable for a single person receiving the JobSeeker payment ($45 per day), and none whatsoever for Youth Allowance ($36 per day).

Social housing alleviates poverty

Building more social housing is the solution to our housing crisis and alleviating poverty. Social housing provides affordable rents, security and other supports that are not available to people in the private rental market. Currently there is a national shortage of 433,000 homes for people in the lowest 20% of household incomes. This group are at the highest risk of experiencing homelessness.

We must build more social housing - it is both the right and the smart thing to do. People cannot get back on their feet without a safe and affordable place to live.

Australia’s income support payments drive poverty

In March 2021, 1.6 million Australians, or 7.9% of the population aged 16 and over, received JobSeeker, Youth Allowance or the Parenting Payment for people who are the primary carers of young children. Of all Australians living in poverty, 51% rely on government payments from Centrelink, also known as social security, as their main source of income. This includes people receiving the Aged Pension and Disability Support Pension.

In March 2020, as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Australian Government briefly introduced the $550 Coronavirus Supplement for people who were receiving income support. Until then, the JobSeeker payment for people who are unemployed had not increased since 1994. Researchers at the Australian National University estimated that because of the temporary increase, poverty was reduced by 13% in this period. However, they also estimated that even more people, 3.5 million Australians would be in poverty after those payments went back to their previous rate.

Sacred Heart Mission staff noticed that many of our long-term regular clients stopped visiting our Dining Hall for meals during 2020 – but they returned in 2021. When asked, several clients said they no longer needed Sacred Heart Mission’s meals because they had enough money to manage during the period where they received the Coronavirus Supplement. But since the supplement had been removed, people returned to our services to access free and nutritious meals. $45 per day is simply not enough!

Covid-19 lockdowns and poverty

Several Australian states have experienced extensive lockdowns in 2021, even more people have lost their jobs in the second year of the pandemic and are now reliant on Centrelink payments. The Federal Government introduced a Covid-19 Disaster Payment in 2021 for people who have been unable to work due to lockdowns.

Unfortunately, in September 2021, the Federal Government announced that the Disaster Payments will be phased out once a state or territory reaches 70% vaccination rate. We know from what other nations are experiencing that businesses will not bounce back immediately, and there may still be a need for lockdowns in the longer term. Ending these payments before Australia is out of the Covid crisis is extremely short-sighted.

It means more Australians will be pushed onto the cruel rate of the JobSeeker Payment of $45 per day – one of the lowest social security payments in the world. So low, that even the OECD has told Australia our income support payments must be increased to prevent poverty. But we’re still waiting for the Federal Government to respond to these calls.

The solution – how can I help?

Poverty exists. Poverty hurts us all. We can all do something about it.

  • We can help end poverty by demanding government increase support payments. Join the Raise the Rate for Good campaign, led by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), calling on the Federal Government to make sure that no person on income support receives less than $67 per day.

  • You can also sign up to the Everybody’s Home campaign, calling on the Federal Government to invest in social housing so that everyone can cover the basics and keep a safe roof over their head.
  • Sign up for Heartbeat, Sacred Heart Mission’s monthly newsletter, so you can see the good work we are doing to support our community and learn how you can get involved.

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