Older singles hurting the most

Thirty per cent of Australians deemed to be living in poverty are elderly singles, according to the annual report of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA), with the report’s co-author saying the results should strengthen the argument for an increase in support for low-income families.

The survey, released yesterday, found that poverty rates in Australia were highest among the elderly and had increased among all family types, except for couples with children.

The report, released on Tuesday by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, shows that Australia’s living standards are falling and that median household incomes have not grown since 2009.

The HILDA survey is a longitudinal study that interviews the same households each year. It tracks the changes within households as well as movements across occupations, locations, income levels and other socio-economic indicators.

The survey shows that there has been no increase in median household incomes since 2009 and in 2017 the median household income fell 0.6 per cent to $80,095.

It shows that relative poverty in Australia, measured as disposable incomes that are less than half the national median income, or equivalent to earning less than $23,938 a year in 2017, rose from 9.4 per cent in 2016 to 10.4 per cent in 2017.

About 10 per cent of households are reliant on government welfare and receive more than half their income through government support measures.

Since 2009, the mean or average income has risen just 3.4 per cent, and to further exacerbate the situation, inequality has hit a fork in the road and is becoming entrenched.

The survey reported that 38 per cent of children in the poorest 20 per cent of households in 2001 were in the same bottom quintile as adults in 2017. Conversely, 31 per cent of children in households in the top income quintile were also in that quintile as adults.

The survey provides incontrovertible proof that household incomes and living standards have stagnated since the end of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

The co-author of the report said he believed changes to the welfare system introduced by the Coalition and previous Labor government were the likely cause for the rise in poverty rates and that the results “should strengthen the argument for an increase in support for low-income families”.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of attention on the lack of a real increase in the Newstart allowance,” he said.

“But that’s probably not the biggest factor. It would be things like progressively moving more people onto Newstart from higher benefits like parenting payment single and the disability support pension.

“We would certainly be concerned if the slight uptick in poverty rates we are seeing becomes a trend and we start to undo the progress we’ve made over the last decade and a half.”

Cassandra Goldie, chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), said the survey results clearly showed the welfare system wasn’t working.

“Australia is the wealthiest country in the world, yet we have people skipping meals, staying in abusive relationships and showering once a week because they are on the grossly inadequate Newstart payment,” she said.

“Newstart is not working – $40 a day is not enough to get people through tough times and into suitable paid work.

“Our survey shows people can’t afford rent, food, energy, clothing, transport, haircuts, dental care or Internet access, which severely hampers their chances of getting a job, especially as there is only one job available for every eight people looking.”

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