Comment: Disadvantage the real threat to our children’s futures

(AAP)

The budget’s cruel cuts are poised to affect younger and older Australians, students, job seekers, carers, single parents, low income families and people with disability.

A notable feature of the Abbott Government’s short time in office has been their disconnection from the reality faced by vulnerable Australians.

The federal budget’s cruel cuts are poised to affect younger and older Australians, students, job seekers, carers, single parents, low income families and people with disability.

How disconnected do you have to be from everyday life not to realise that young people can't exist on nothing for six months, or that such measures will have profound impacts on our community, or that single parents are already struggling to keep their heads above water and can't cope with more cuts?

It is almost as if the Government deliberately sat down to make this the toughest budget possible for the most vulnerable members of our community.

This is a terrible list of budget measures that cause significant pain to the most vulnerable, the Government is using a confected ‘budget emergency’ to justify ideological changes to our safety net, rather than making changes that are designed to deliver outcomes that are in the best, long term interests of our community.

This week, the Salvation Army’s Economic & Social Impact Survey has examined the needs and wellbeing of clients across community support services. Their report shows that too many people are going without the absolute essentials, such as food, heating in winter and regular social contact. More than 90% have no savings for emergencies, 1 in 4 go without food and tragically,  47% say they’re unable to find someone to help them when needed.

The Salvos also discuss the barriers to employment that people face, and the role they play in preventing them from finding secure work. Health problems, disability, being a parent or carer, age discrimination and lack of skills or education were all significant. These are all issues which will be amplified by the federal budget, as the cuts drop people further into poverty.

The consequences of long term disadvantage are significant, and are one of the main issues examined in reports such as 'Locked Out, Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Sydney', released recently by Anglicare. While it’s focus is Sydney, the messages in this report translate to cities and towns across the nation, examining disadvantage among clients using emergency relief services, encompassing factors such as poverty, deprivation and economic and social exclusion.

In particular, Anglicare examines the intergenerational nature of disadvantage - that is, the fact that children experiencing poverty and deprivation have higher risks of poorer health, nutrition and education outcomes.

They find that when children grow up with deep and persistent disadvantage, they experience barriers to acquiring the capabilities and opportunities they need, closing the door on future life prospects and well-being.

Over a six year period, Anglicare has found trends that reveal an increasing need for financial assistance in the form of food cards and hampers, assistance with the payment of energy bills and individual advocacy. Many families need repeated help, and 63% of children included in the study were from single parent households.

People who were unemployed or on low incomes, living alone or a single parent were found to be amongst those the highest risk of experiencing disadvantaged. Being Aboriginal, experiencing rental stress or living in an area of disadvantages were also identified as risk factors.

Anglicare’s recommendations to address these issues echo many of the calls coming from across our community sector, including a National Child Poverty Action Plan; an increase to Newstart with a reversal of single parenting payment cuts and action to improve rental affordability. They have also called for a regular review of pensions and allowances, an increase to rent assistance of $40 per week, and steps to assist NGOs in their crucial provision of services.

These recommendations would take some significant steps towards reducing poverty in our community, including a reduction in child and intergenerational disadvantage.

Contrast this mindset, and the awareness of our nation’s serious social challenges, to the cruel budget measures of last week, which saw billions taken from those on low-incomes, families, pensioners, people with disability, single parents and young people, and that introduce new costs to visit a doctor and buy medicines.

If Tony Abbott can manipulate these budget measures through Parliament, they will begin to impact people across the country as soon as July this year.

Cuts to pensions will see changes to the way they are indexed every six months, with the rate of increase lowered to the CPI, meaning payments will grow at a slower rate, just as Newstart has done. Access to Newstart itself has been reduce, and the government have moved to cut people off the payment quicker.

Young people aged 18 to 30 who are looking for work will be denied access to Youth Allowance or Newstart and will be forced to survive for up to six months with no income support and exposed to work for the dole programs.

Some people with disability aged under 35 will be targeted with reassessments for their DSP and could be dumped onto Newstart and single parents lose the pensioner education supplement and family tax benefits, on top of the cuts to indexation.

If you’re living below the poverty line, a GP co-payment of $7 is huge in the context of your budget, while increased co-payments for prescription medicines will also be a burden. Those with children know how many times you have to visit a doctor and buy medicines, so how are single parents expected to cope with this?

This is a terrible list of budget measures that cause significant pain to the most vulnerable, the Government is using a confected ‘budget emergency’ to justify ideological changes to our safety net, rather than making changes that are designed to deliver outcomes that are in the best, long term interests of our community. It should be noted that Australia has the 4th lowest net debt as a percentage of GDP in the OECD.

The government’s actions will further entrench poverty and intergenerational disadvantage. That, not a so-called debt crisis, is what will steal our children’s futures.

Senator Rachel Siewert is the Greens spokesperson on family and community services.

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