When we think about poverty, we don’t normally think of Australia. In our ‘lucky country’, the idea that people could be living in ‘poverty’ is just not something most of us can believe. In a country as rich as Australia where the average disposable income is about $40,000 a year, which is well above the OECD average of about $30,000. So then why are there still so many people who are falling through the cracks despite the many years of prosperity?
“Poverty is unacceptable because it hurts the lives of those who experience it and because it undermines the nature of our society and also diminishes those who are not poor.” – Alison McClelland
Poverty embodies the idea of moral unacceptability and invokes a call for action. This is even more prevalent for child poverty, because of the vulnerability and blamelessness of children and the future impact that poverty has on adults.
In affluent countries like Australia relative poverty is high and often connected to inequality. There are three related problems arising from growing poverty and inequality:
- Deprivation, isolation and hardship,
- Greater inequality of opportunities, and
- A decline in shared experiences and values—in social cohesion.
In Australia, poverty is defined through relative rather than absolute terms. Where individuals and families suffer from horrible living standards, where socially perceived necessities cannot be achieved and where deprivation and hardship are likely to be evident. Non-material poverty can be important however most people understand and measure poverty through some type of measure of well-being and deprivation. This is undertaken with reference to income, although other measures are sometimes used.
The Australian government needs to focus on creating programs for children from disadvantaged families so that they can be helped and specially funded so they don’t begin school being already behind and can keep up with their peers both in school and outside of school. In particular, we as a nation need to consider whether our childcare and welfare systems are actually helping poor and disadvantaged families or making the problem worse.
Your Child Poverty Advocate,