Although a generally well-off country, Australia still has 3.3 million people living below the poverty line, including 761,000 children whose families lack adequate food and struggle to pay essential household bills.
The combination of inadequate and insecure housing, and families under financial stress, is especially damaging for children, putting their health, self-esteem and future prospects at serious risk.
This year’s Anti-Poverty Week (15-27 October) is shining a light on the children of families who receive inadequate social security payments and depend on emergency support from charities such as St Vincent de Paul Society.
‘We are a sponsor of Anti-Poverty Week because the first-hand experience of our frontline Members tells us how difficult life has become for so many Australians,’ said St Vincent de Paul Society National President, Mark Gaetani.
‘Those particularly vulnerable are single parents, First Nations people, long-term unemployed and those living with disability or ill-health. But it’s the impact on children that is especially concerning, as the formative years are so important.
‘If you don’t have a good start in life, a failure to thrive is embedded, impacting kids on many levels, from their physical and emotional health through to their educational and longer life prospects.
‘It’s unbelievable that in a wealthy country like ours, one-in-six children live in poverty-affected households. Imagine that … one in six! And it isn’t just those families who are out of work, because one-in-15 of Australians in strife do have paid employment, although it may be part-time or exploitative gig work,’ Mr Gaetani added.
‘Catholic social teaching principles stress the moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members, with the poor having the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. As a result, we are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor.
‘With prices rising across the board and people increasingly falling behind, an increase in government support payments is urgent. Currently, people on JobSeeker are living on incomes well below the poverty line each fortnight,
‘For some time we have been stressing how a proper increase to working age payments and other entitlements would help people to better afford the essentials of life. Any increase in these payments will stimulate the economy, as people spend immediately, and locally, on essentials.
‘Furthermore, as our commissioned research from the ANU has shown, reforms to Australia’s tax and welfare system could greatly reduce inequality by lifting between 193,000 to 834,000 people out of poverty and financial stress.
‘We urge the Government and all MPs to urgently commit to bringing about a better life for those experiencing poverty, especially children, and to take resolute action to make this happen. The Society strongly supports Anti-Poverty Week’s target of halving child poverty by 2030, and there is no reason why this should not be achieved.’
The St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia consists of 45,000 members and volunteers who operate on the ground through over 1,000 groups located in local communities across the country.