Comment: the Government must provide opportunities to people in poverty

(File: AAP)

A National Anti-Poverty Strategy could address issues such as the provision of affordable housing, access to quality food, public transport, employment and health services.

Last week I heard Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, speak about the soaring levels of hunger and poverty in the US.

He described US social policies as being fundamentally flawed, and urged us not to go down that same road, saying "do not follow our social policy, Australia".

Unfortunately that is exactly what we seem to be doing.

ACOSS’s Poverty In Australia report 2014 shows us that things are getting worse, with 13.9% of all people – that’s 2.5 million Australians- living below the internationally accepted poverty line.

The ongoing failures in key areas of social security are laid bare in this report - 55% of people on Newstart, 50% of people on Youth Allowance and 48% of people receiving the disability support pension live in poverty. 33% of sole parents live in poverty, and these statistics do not yet reflect the former ALP Government's move to dump single parents onto Newstart in January 2013. The current numbers are likely to be far higher.

As if these figures weren't bad enough, the Abbott Government is driving policy changes that Joel Berg, community service organisations and policy experts urge against.

When faced with the poverty report, our Prime Minister argued that his tough budget measures were needed for a 'sustainable economy'. He would do well to heed the advice of the International Monetary Fund IMF, which warns that inequality undermines productivity and is a drag on economic growth.

So not only is it unfair that the most vulnerable in our community should bear the greatest impact of the budget measures, it is simply bad policy.

Keeping the unemployed, under-employed and those in low skilled and insecure work in poverty, and introducing more punitive and disempowering measures actively undermines their chances of turning their lives around and in doing so making a greater contribution to our community.

Unemployed people are already at greatest risk, with 61.2% living below the poverty line. Measures such as depriving young jobseekers of access to income support for six months and forcing them into unproductive work for the dole schemes will simply undermine their efforts to find secure employment.

We abandoned work for the dole schemes many years ago, when the analysis showed they were not effective in helping unemployed people into real jobs - yet we are now abandoning programs with much higher success rates to return to this failed model.

It is apparently the Government’s mission to end the so called age of entitlement and target the people it regards as ‘leaners’ by tearing giant holes in our social safety net.

Australians are not leaners, and those who are stuck in poverty have not chosen this reality, it is a result of circumstance, a lack of support and a lack of opportunity, rather than a lack of commitment or motivation.

Living in poverty can close opportunities for education, employment and social inclusion. It makes it harder to get enough to eat, to have secure affordable accommodation, to pay essential utilities bills like water & electricity, or to afford health, mental health and dental care.

This makes finding and maintaining secure work, pursuing education and remaining engaged in the community increasingly hard.

Growing up in poverty can determine a child's life outcomes and can entrench intergenerational poverty.

This Government is committed to an ongoing ideological campaign against core elements of our social security system, proposals from the Commission of Audit, Welfare Review and Forrest Review to cut payments, drastically change the entitlements of job seekers and to expand income-management style welfare quarantining schemes across the country. This US style policy approach is flawed and failing there and will fail here.

State and federal governments aren't adequately addressing poverty and inequality. They have flawed and ineffective policies, and a lack of coordination results in wasteful overlaps and serious gaps in service delivery.

As Joel Berg says, Governments need to stop thinking of issues related to poverty, such as food insecurity, as something that can be fixed with "a little charity" - we need proper policies and policies in place to address complex problems.

It is for this reason that the Greens continue to advocate for a National Anti-Poverty Strategy, to facilitate coordinated action across all levels of government and the community services sector to address the underlying causes of poverty and establish a process for monitoring and reporting progress, as we do with efforts to Close the Gap.

A National Anti-Poverty Strategy should include adequate income support payments and address issues such as the provision of affordable housing, access to quality food, public transport, employment and health services.

Poverty can’t be tackled at a time when efforts are underway to cut income support and dramatically change our social security system, or while income support payments like Newstart remain so inadequate.

Our economy can be strengthened by reducing poverty, creating employment opportunities, increasing workforce participation and subsequently reducing reliance on income support, without making it inaccessible for those who need it.

Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens spokesperson on family and community services.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch