‘If you’re poor, it’s probably your fault’ is an oft-used remark directed at Australia’s most disadvantaged residents. But do people living below the poverty line in the land of the ‘lucky country’ really have themselves to blame?
“It’s easier to blame people and say that’s their fault rather than think that this could happen to anyone through a long-term illness or an injury or the loss of a loved one or a partner,” says St Vincent De Paul’s senior operations manager of Health, David Kelly.
“It’s easier to blame people and say that’s their fault rather than think that this could happen to anyone through a long-term illness or an injury or the loss of a loved one or a partner."
“Those things can literally happen to anybody and they can change the course of your life.”
The loss of a partner and their contributing household income can also have a devastating impact on an individual’s wealth status and their ability to afford daily essentials.
When Pamela Pearce’s long-term partner passed away, she found herself living below the poverty line.
“I used to be Freddy’s carer, we used to get two cheques then,” she says in SBS’s online video, The Truth About Disadvantage.
“With our [pay] cheques [combined] together, we could afford to pay the rent. And then all of a sudden when he goes, nothing. Everything’s gone.”
When your household income falls outside your own control
Single adults, those with and without children, generally experience a higher rate of poverty than couples, according to the 2016 Poverty in Australia report.
Domestic violence is also one of the leading causes of disruption to the quality of life of Australian families. Of the 520,00 Australians who accessed homelessness services in 2013-14, 36 per cent did so due to domestic and family violence—the majority of whom were women over the age of 18.
Unemployment and underemployment, your education level, the potential overcrowding of your house and a lack of access to community services can all determine whether or not someone will end up living below the poverty line.
Research director of the University of NSW’s Social Policy Research Centre, kylie valentine, urges Australians to think twice before buying into the prevailing sentiment – that people ‘choose' to be poor or make bad decisions that cause their disadvantage.
She says the statement is not just wrong, it’s damaging.
“The idea that somebody would choose that [life, one spent in poverty] or the idea that [being unemployed] is an easier life than going to work is not sustainable,” says research director of the University of NSW’s Social Policy Research Centre, kylie valentine*.
“You don’t have to have contact with people for very long to realise how corrosive that [stereotype] is on people,” explains valentine.
If you or someone you know needs support, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
All six episodes of Struggle Street series two are available to view on SBS On Demand.
Struggle Street series two is produced by KEO Films with funding support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria.