Adequate income support and social housing could end poverty-induced homelessness
Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, yet poverty and poverty-induced homelessness remain rife. All of us should share in our national wealth, but for the 3.24 million people living below the poverty line this is more dream than reality.
Why people are still living in poverty in a wealthy country like Australia is beyond me. It is also baffling to me why poverty seems to have exited our national conversation. Since the 1980s when Bob Hawke committed to ending child poverty, successive governments have failed to even talk about poverty, let alone take action on it.
Our country has a duty of care to ensure no one has to live in poverty, that everyone has somewhere safe and secure to live, and has every opportunity to thrive in a stable home. Australia certainly has the resources to end poverty, but our governments have too often fallen short in the willpower stakes.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of Anti-Poverty Week this 16-22 October, 17 October 2022 also marks the 30th year of the declaration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It’s also now more than 35 years since former Prime Minister Bob Hawke proclaimed, “by 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty.”
Fast-forward to 2022, and shockingly, one in six children in Australia – which is around 774,000 kids – are growing up below the poverty line. This is why Mission Australia joins Anti-Poverty Week and all those who are acting on poverty to urge our Federal Government to introduce bipartisan legislation to halve child poverty by 2030 with measurable targets and actions to achieve this goal.
And of course, we need to recognise that to treat all of Australia’s children fairly, we need to ensure every family has what they need.
Australia’s income support safety net must be adequate, so it does what it’s designed to do – protect people from poverty and properly support people to seek work if they are able to do so. People who rely on income support payments are five times more likely to be living in poverty than those who depend on wages or salaries. The JobSeeker rate remains severely inadequate at $48a day – no one can survive let alone thrive and get back into work on this awfully low income.
Encouragingly, most people in Australia support an increase to JobSeeker. Polling commissioned by ACOSS and undertaken by Ipsos in April-May 2022, found 68 per cent support an increase in JobSeeker to above the poverty line. More than 76% said they couldn’t live on the current rate of JobSeeker, which is $48 a day. In a survey by The Smith Family, a resounding 82 per cent of people agreed that “helping children and young people overcome poverty should be a top priority for the country”.
It's clear that Australia’s poverty problem and dismal income support system is no longer hidden – we see you! So, we have people power, we just need the political willpower.
As we see all too often at Mission Australia, people living in poverty are at risk of becoming homeless. The stark shortage of social and affordable housing, skyrocketing cost of renting and rental stress, rising cost of living, and inadequate levels of income support are combining to escalate Australia’s housing and homelessness crisis.
Safe, secure and affordable housing is vital for all. While we welcome the Federal Government’s recent commitment to developing a national plan to end homelessness, and commitment to investing in 30,000 new social and affordable homes, it’s simply not enough.
With 150,000 households on the social housing waiting list Australia-wide and at least 116,000 people who are homeless on any given night, much more investment in new social and affordable housing is needed alongside that all-important income support increase if we are to ever end poverty in Australia.
This Anti-Poverty Week, I would like to see the Federal Government increase the base rate of income support payments, so they are adequate and keep people out of poverty and homelessness. Increasing Commonwealth Rent Assistance by at least 50 per cent will also greatly assist people to pay their rent at this incredibly difficult time. It’s also imperative we focus on eradicating child poverty and set measurable targets and actions to do so.
We all want to live in an Australia where every person can access life’s essentials including food, medicine, and a safe, secure and affordable home. We want to live in a country where everyone has access to opportunities for education, quality employment, genuine friendships and strong, connected communities.
My hope and ask to everyone reading my blog this Anti-Poverty Week is this: let’s make it our priority to do everything we can to create a near-future where every person and family in Australia lives above the poverty line and can thrive.
CEO Mission Australia
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