Our apparently affluent nation is facing a growing cost of living, with a corresponding rise in the number of people living in poverty. Housing affordability, rental prices, wage stagnation, and the cost of living are all factors in the rising rate of poverty affected Australians.
Anti-Poverty Week recently released their analysis of figures sourced from the Department of Social Services that show at December 2021, 2.4 million adults and children living below the poverty line. That’s nearly one in 10 Australians, including 900,000 – or one in five – children.
The effects of living below the poverty line are not limited to being unable to afford to put food on the table. Poverty increases the risk of psychological distress, and mental health disorders. Poorer communities have a higher risk factor for violence, crime, social conflict, civil unrest, homelessness, and unemployment.
Children who live in families affected by poverty experience the same distress as adults. They are statistically less likely to complete high school, find a good job or have stable housing. They may often suffer from poor mental and physical health, and social isolation. Children living in poverty are more likely to lack enjoyment in exercise, have inadequate diets and experience hunger.
The numbers of children living below the poverty line in Australia are, frankly, staggering. One out of every five children are living in a financially stricken household. When it comes to people with a disability, the situation is similar.
One in every six people with a disability are living in poverty. The number of people with disability receiving JobSeeker has increased as the eligibility for receiving the Disability Support Pension (DSP) has tightened. Employment opportunities for people with a disability are scant, with many employers unaware that people with a disability cost less than their non-disabled counterparts in workers compensation, are equally as productive as their non-disabled counterparts, and that employees with a disability are longer serving and have less turn over than non-disabled workers.
Despite these facts, working-aged people with a disability are twice as likely to be unemployed and relying on Jobseeker than those without a disability, and the rate of unemployment for people with a disability is increasing. People with a disability are more likely to be unemployed for longer, and more likely to be underemployed. More than 1 million working-age people with a disability are working or looking for work.
Women experiencing domestic violence are also more likely to be living in poverty. Of those women affected by domestic and family violence, one in five experienced financial hardship if they had been the victim of severe partner abuse in past year.
This is three times more than the rate of financial hardship experienced by women who had not been the victims of domestic and family violence.
Violence impacts women in all communities and across all income levels but women on low incomes are more likely to be affected. Our Watch lists socio-economic inequality and discrimination as one of five contributing factors that make violence against women worse.
The profound impact of living in poverty is worse for our most vulnerable citizens, children, people with a disability, and women.
Inequality for these people can cause a vicious cycle of poverty, repeated down the generations.
Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that are intended to end poverty, hunger, AIDS, and discrimination against women and girls.
And yet, since signing the UN Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, poverty and inequality has not reduced: it has grown.
The increased cost of living combined with stagnant wages for working Australians is putting the pinch on households financially, to the point where inequality and poverty are expanding.
Is this the Australia we really want?
Australia has an opportunity to eradicate poverty for millions of Australians, with policy measures that raise income support rates above the poverty line, by addressing the lack of affordable housing and social housing, and by reassessing the policies that perpetuate the cycle.
We are an affluent nation that can afford to address inequality and social disadvantage. And we have an opportunity to meet our responsibilities under the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But it will take a compassionate, and realistic course of policy change at both the state and federal levels to achieve.