Living in poverty
This week is Anti-Poverty Week. To launch the discussion on poverty in Australia, the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has released a report which reveals 12.8 per cent (more than 2.25 million Australians) are living in poverty.
It is somewhat ironic that this report follows the Global Wealth report released by Credit Suisse last week, which has found that Australians are the richest people in the world, based on median wealth per adult of US $194,000, more than double the second and third wealthiest nations, Switzerland (US $87,000) and Norway (US $79,000)
ACOSS’s Poverty in Australia report bases its definition of poverty on the OECD measure of 50 per cent of the median wage. This is $358 a week for a single person, or about $50 a day. It is the first time such a measure of poverty has been conducted since 2006 and shows that those living on social security are falling further behind. Says CEO of ACOSS, Dr. Cassandra Goldie, "This report reveals that despite years of unprecedented growth and wealth creation, we have made little ground in combatting the scourge of poverty…
"In a wealthy country like Australia, this is simply inexcusable. Over a third (37 per cent) of people whose main income is social security is living below the poverty line, including 52 per cent of people in households on NewStart Allowance”.
ACOSS has called upon the Federal Government to commit to a national development goal to reduce poverty in Australia.
Dr. Goldie stated that “We need an agreed measure of poverty, such as the Australian National Development Index, and we need to annually measure our progress towards reducing poverty.”
For more information visit ACOSS
There are two burning issues attached to the ACOSS Poverty in Australia report and subsequent statements.
First is the use of the OECD definition of poverty at 50 per cent of the median wage. This measure is described by ACOSS CEO Dr. Goldie as a ‘conservative’ one. And it is. The European Union (EU) uses a more realistic definition - 60 per cent of the median wage – which would equal $429 per week in Australia in 2012. If this more realistic measure were used, we would see that nearly all Age Pensioners are living well below the poverty line.
However, it is the second issue which I find most harmful. And that is the very dangerous perception that those receiving the Age Pension are now ‘well off” because there was an increase in 2009 and the Age Pension is indexed.
In relation to the Age Pension, Dr. Goldie has commented:
"On the other hand the $32 per week increase in pensions (above inflation) in 2009 appears to have reduced poverty among older people (which is 13.2 per cent for people over 64), though the single pension rate was still slightly below the poverty line.”
When the Rudd Government increased the Age Pension in 2009 it was long overdue. It took the single Age Pension from being below the poverty line to being below the poverty line. Yes, that’s right, it was barely catch-up. This was not a magnificent ‘leg-up’ for Australian pensioners. When you start from a low enough base you need a massive boost to reach parity, let alone any reasonable sort of life. And woe betide those who have the cheek to not fully own their own homes. In the words of the poet, they are simply stuffed.
So whilst it is patently obvious that families on social welfare are doing it tough, this is not time to suggest that those who have worked for decades and are now on an Age Pension are on easy street by comparison.
Pitting the socially disadvantaged against each other is a bad strategy. We all need to recognise that living in the richest nation on the earth has great advantages. But unless we are prepared to share the wealth we should hang our heads in shame. The redistribution of a small percentage of mining industry profits into increased superannuation contributions is a no-brainer. And great for younger people with years of work ahead to create a sustainable retirement nest egg. But there must be other ways of sharing the wealth that Australia is fortunate enough to generate with those who are at the end of their working lives, not the beginning. The fact that half a million children live below the poverty line is simply shameful. The fact that older Australians are barely surviving on a pension, which does not allow them to buy a cup of coffee or a bunch of flowers, is equally appalling. Unless we all take ownership of the need to pressure our governments – regardless of who is in power – until the pittance of a pension is increased, we are simply not worthy of the riches this country provides.
So, is poverty in Australia a problem? What do you think?
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