Over 3 million Australians locked into poverty

Over 3 million Australians locked into poverty

The poverty rate in Australia is worse than in most other wealthy countries

Fewer entry-level jobs, rising housing costs, and inadequate welfare rates are just some of the contributing factors to more than one in eight adults living in poverty, with sector leaders banding together to call for immediate action. 

The latest Australian Council for Social Services and UNSW Sydney poverty report revealed more than 3 million Australians are living below the poverty line, including 774,000 children. 

The child poverty rate was found to be consistently higher than overall poverty, ranging from 18 per cent to 16 per cent over the past decade. The rate now sits at 17.7 per cent – more than one in six children.

The report also found that poverty has not only remained consistently high but the depth is getting worse, with households in poverty on average living 42 per cent below the poverty line, up from 35 per cent in 2007. 

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said it was not right that one of the wealthiest countries in the world has such a high rate of poverty. 

“Our economy is leaving people behind, with persistently high poverty rates despite decades of uninterrupted economic growth,” Goldie said. 

“People living in poverty include young people working to get their foot in the door of the competitive job market, single parents juggling caring responsibilities, and older people confronting age discrimination.” 

The poverty line was measured at $457 per week in 2017-18 for a single adult and $960 per week for a couple with two children.

The report’s lead researcher, UNSW Sydney associate professor Dr Bruce Bradbury, said the poverty rate in Australia was worse than in most other wealthy countries. 

“This includes New Zealand, Germany and Ireland,” Bradbury said. 

The drivers of poverty

Goldie said the rising cost of housing, stagnant income support payments and a changing job market was locking people in poverty, and it was clear something needed to change.   

“The government can reduce poverty by boosting growth in jobs, increasing Newstart and Rent Assistance, and investing in social housing to ensure everyone has a safe place to call home,” Goldie said.

Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said the report highlighted why investment in social and affordable homes was critical to avoid low-income earners falling into homelessness. 

“We urgently need more social and affordable homes and an increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance if Australia is to have any hope of addressing poverty and ending homelessness,” Toomey said. 

Calls to fix Newstart grow louder across the sector  

Leaders from major community sector groups such as Anglicare Australia, St Vincent de Paul and cohealth, joined ACOSS in using the report to renew calls for a $95 a week increase to Newstart – which hasn’t increased in real terms in 26 years.    

Anglicare Australia CEO Kasey Chambers said the report should shock all Australians. 

“We know what needs to be done to turn this around. The government must raise the rate of Newstart and invest in affordable housing,” Chambers said. 

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