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“Poverty is a consistent feature of Australian life”: ACOSS report finds where the government has failed

An Australian Council of Social Services report has found that national poverty rates remain high despite economic growth

National poverty rates remain high despite Australia’s decades-long record of endless economic growth, an Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) report has found.

The Poverty in Australia report found that one in eight adults and one in six children are living in poverty and many of those affected are living in deep poverty on just an average of $135 per week. This effectively puts them below the poverty line.

ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said that the report shows that “as a nation we choose the level of poverty we are prepared to accept”.

“The government argues that poverty in Australia is not the problem. They are wrong. People on the lowest incomes cannot afford to pay for the very basics of life – housing, food, energy, health and getting their teeth fixed. Poverty is now a consistent feature of Australian life. Are we prepared to accept this?” Goldie said.

Just over 3 million people live below the poverty line, which is defined as a single adult living on less than $433 a week, or $909 for a couple with two children. Australia has the 14th highest poverty rate among OCED countries and is part of a group of English speaking wealthy nations with above-average poverty levels.

Goldie said the solutions would be to increase the social security net for those affected, including for people living on Youth Allowance and Newstart. She adds there should be boosts to family payments for low-income families and index these payments.

The freezing of Newstart Allowance has increased poverty among those receiving that payment, the report found. Poverty among people in households relying on Newstart Allowance rose from 61 per cent in 1997 to 78 per cent in 2015.

Goldie said a serious boost is long overdue, as is an increase to the Commonwealth Rent Assistance. She added that a complete overhaul was needed across the board.

UNSW Professor and Lead Researcher, Peter Saunders, said the report filled the data gap and that further action could now be taken to reduce poverty and see it become a national priority for governments, businesses and the community.

“The Australian government has joined other nations in adopting the Sustainable Development Goals, a framework for national and global development. These Goals include reducing by half poverty rates for men, women and children by 2030, but we are a long way from achieving them,” Saunders said.

“Australia lacks a poverty reduction plan and we do not have regular monitoring and reporting by government son progress to address poverty.”

More than half of people living below the poverty line are in households that rely on social security as their main source of income. The majority of people below the poverty line are in rental housing while only 15 per cent were home-owners.

The report found that 739,000 children under the age of 15 and 410,000 youth between the ages of 15 and 24 live below the poverty line. A major source of child poverty is credited to the high poverty rate among sole parent families.

“Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. With strong signs in the economy, and an improved Federal budget position, the top priority for any Prime Minister must be to end poverty in all its forms,” Goldie said.

“It is time that our politicians stopped talking about themselves and turned their attention to the issues that the community cares about.”

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