Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been shedding some light on the prevalence and the issues surrounding child poverty in Australia and around the world. The question that still remains is how much child poverty actually exists in Australia and what is the extent of it?
There are a number of large variations in recent estimates of child poverty as it changes over time. The best estimate at this point is that 1 in 8 children in Australia are likely to be living in families with incomes below the half-average poverty line (before housing costs). While a higher proportion of children are living with families on low incomes that are only slightly above this figure. Once we take housing costs into account, this figure increases to 1 in 5 children in Australia that live in poverty.
Since the 1970s, the level of child poverty, that is the number of children in families with incomes below the poverty line, has increased to an extent. This rate has not reduced however the actual depth of child poverty has been slowly reducing over time. This means that over time there has been fewer children in families with incomes that are significantly below the poverty line.
The driving factor in this increase in child poverty has come from the low earnings of parents as a result of: unemployment, and low-wage earnings growth for parents with low sills and who are on low wages. The Australian government has made improvements for low-income families with children by placing incentives and subsidizing services that will help these low income families.
Compared to other developed countries, Australia’s child poverty rates are incredibly high. This comparison may overstate the relative poverty and inequality present in society. However these results do demonstrate that we need to do much better.
The position of families with children relative to other families appears to have deteriorated over time. This should be an area of concern for all those interested in the welfare and safety of all children. Another main cause for increased child poverty rates in Australia is the rising rate of young people aged 16 years and over who are either jobless or in a low-wage occupation.
We need to understand the cause and prevalence of child poverty in Australia so that we can start to find a solution for the problem.
Yesterday, on Friday 25th September the World Leaders met to discuss and commit to 17 Global Goals to achieve 3 extraordinary things in the next 15 years. These goals are based on: ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and finding a way to fix climate change. The United Nations outlined 17 new Millennium Development Goals that they hope to achieve for sustainable development in all countries all over the world. These Global Goals are for everyone and for all people.
These Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the United Nations at a summit meeting in New York. A vision for what we hope the future will look like by 2030 for people all around the world. These new ‘Global Goals’ will replace the United Nations’ previous guideline, the Millennium Development Goals that were adopted in 2000. Those goals were mainly targeted at developing countries and were met with varying degrees of success.
In the last 15 years, there has been great progress towards reducing poverty around the world. A large part of this reduction is due to the Millennium Development Goals that the United Nations committed to in 2000. Each of these goals carried out a 2015 deadline. The goal of cutting extreme poverty by half – which is measured by the proportion of people who are living on less than $1.25 a day – and this was met five years ahead of schedule.
The new global goals are even more ambitious then their predecessor, and are meant to apply to every country and not just the developing world. These goals are accompanied with 169 specific targets that are aimed at advancing these goals in concrete ways. Many of these goals are to be achieved by 2030 however some of them have shorter deadlines.
Australia as a nation, needs to make sure that the Global Goals of the world are their goals too. In a country as rich as ours, it is not acceptable that poverty (especially child poverty) exist. With a new government in place, we have the opportunity to change and eradicate poverty in countries such as our own. We need to work together to create a brighter future for Australia and the rest of the world.
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.
Child poverty has detrimental effects on not just children, but their families and society as a whole. Poverty is not only something that affects individuals financially, despite the lack of money being a huge contributing factor to poverty. Child poverty can mean that children miss out on normal activities and face isolation and exclusion as a result of it. These children lack a secure home and this can affect the child’ development and health.
These impacts can have long-term consequences for the education, employment and economic security of these children when they become adults. These long-term effects are likely to become greater if the child has experienced poverty for a long time. The negative impact of poverty can also be profound if it is experienced in the early years of childhood life. The outcome for these children can be more harmful if the child comes from a low income family, combined with other disadvantages such as: limited parental education and family conflict.
Poverty for children and their families can lead to social exclusion because of their inability to gain employment to material source, health, safety and education. Research from the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence and Melbourne University found that 5% of Australians face “deep social exclusion” and another 1% face “very deep social exclusion.”
The CEDA report uses a combination of two other methods to come up with its million-person figure. Firstly, they look at the “deprivation” approach which considers whether people have access to necessary goods and services.
A 2010 survey found that 18% of Australians did not have up to $500 in their savings accounts in case of an emergency. Thirteen per cent of adults and parents could not afford dental treatment if they needed it, while 8% of them did not have enough for an annual trip to the dentist for their children. In these families, 10% do not have home and contents insurance and 20% of them aren’t able to afford a week’s holiday away from home each year.
“Relative poverty defines poverty in relation to the economic status of other members of the society: people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context.” – UNESCO
In countries such as Australia, poverty is not caused by the same factors as those in third world countries. It is important that we need to understand that poverty and homelessness is not a choice. Poverty can be caused by a whole range of factors. When people face unemployment, high mortgage rates, increasing rent prices and persistent inequality in society, these factors can ultimately lead to poverty.
Often children facing poverty live in a single-parent income household, where one parent has to take care of 1 or more children and themselves on a weekly income of $400. A lot of the times, if these single parents are women they could also be facing gender inequality issues regarding their pay rates. Supporting yourself and your family can be hard enough as it is but when you have to pay bills, a mortgage/rent, and provide basic needs for yourself and your child.
Children where the prime source of income is government income support,
Children in public or private rental accommodation, and
Children with parents from certain non-English speaking backgrounds
With a new Liberal Government in place in Australia, the government needs to examine the reasons behind why poverty and child poverty in particular is so prevalent. Government incentives, welfare benefits and price ceilings can be placed in particular areas to help disadvantaged families and children. Housing costs and availability still play a critical role in child poverty. The declining role of public housing has also influenced the rising rate of Child Poverty. The availability of low-cost rental accommodation has reduced while levels of evictions have been increasing. Inefficient income support payments. Rent Assistance and Child Support Schemes need to be altered to help families cope with the pressures of modern day life.
With the Salvation Army’s ‘Couch Project’ coming up this Friday on September 18th, it is vital to raise awareness of the dangers of youth homelessness and ‘couch surfing’.
In Australia, we tend to view people who are homeless or poor as someone has somehow failed to make it in society. However that is not the case! There is such a stigma with homeless and poor people in first world countries that we want to pretend they don’t exist because the alternative of knowing and understanding that poverty exists everywhere is too hard to accept. Now imagine a scenario like this:
You are walking through Central Station in Sydney, on your way to work, university, etc. and you see a homeless woman approaching strangers begging for money that that she can eat.
What would YOU do next? How would YOU try to help?
Most people in this scenario would avert their eyes, pop their headphones in and pretend to be entirely engaged with their Facebook newsfeeds on their phones.
How many people do you think would actually stop and offer this woman money or help?
Now imagine if it was a young person was facing these dilemmas without anyone to help him/her. To help the youth population facing homelessness sleep on your couch this coming Friday to help raise awareness of regarding child poverty and youth homelessness.
When we think of poverty we normally don’t associate it with countries such as Australia. Poverty is seen as a problem that exists only in developing third world countries where people struggle to have basic needs. Now imagine a child between the ages of 6-16 facing these issues.
Before we can understand how poverty affects the Australian youth we need to understand what poverty in this context means. According to the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS)’s Report published in 2014:“Poverty is defined as the pronounced deprivation of well-being, or the inability to satisfy one’s basic needs.” People are described as being poor if they fall below the expected standards of living in that given societal context. In a country like Australia, poverty is not only defined through a deprivation of basic needs. Rather poverty here refers to individuals and families failing to have a particular standard of life due to a lack of money and opportunity.
Countries such as Australia are not exempt from the problem of poverty. In fact, Australia is a first-world country with one of the highest child poverty rates. With over 602,604 children living below the poverty line (which is 17.7% of all children), who are living in households who are earning 50% of the median incomes. These families are surviving on $400 a week. These children often face social exclusion and prejudice due to their economic circumstances. This is a result of being unable to engage in after school activities such as sports, affording to have the latest expensive toys and in some extreme cases even affording to have basic meals.
No child deserves to live like this. Help support Make them Bloom so that we can move towards a more equal Australia.
Learn more about Child Poverty in Australia in my coming blog posts!