Anti-Poverty Week seeks to strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world and in Australia, and encourage research, discussion and action to address these problems, including action by individuals, communities, organisations and governments.
The effects of poverty can be profound upon people and their communities. Understanding why poverty exists in a prosperous community like ours is the first step towards creating a fairer and more just society
Given this, it was heartening to see so many organisations participate in Anti-Poverty Week with many events and activities examining the prevalence of disadvantage and hardship in our community.
This included a strong focus on looking beyond the statistics to see the faces of people living with the daily reality of poverty As noted in this article, talking about poverty needs to be about more than the numbers and statistics.
“If we look beyond the numbers and listen to the stories behind them, we can better work with people with lived experience of using our community and social services systems, to inform and improve our policies and practices.”
“We need to remember we’re dealing with people, and keep this top of mind while balancing it with other evidence and research, to build better, stronger communities and a positive future for our country. One where living a good life is a real option for all, not just an aspiration.”
The Councils of Social Service from around Australia released a joint statement at the start of the week calling for the development of a national plan to tackle growing poverty and inequality in Australia, including setting targets to ensure the incomes of those at the lowest levels increase at least at the pace of those in the middle.
The statement lays down a challenge to all Australian governments to put poverty reduction at the heart of the public policy agenda, not merely because it marks us as a caring and humane society, but because our future prosperity depends upon it.
In Victoria poverty is a real and significant issue. We have more than 650,000 people living in poverty, and more than one million facing significant financial pressure. Almost one third of those earn wages, just not enough to pay the bills. We have more than 22,000 people who are homeless, almost half of who are aged under 25, and one in six aged under 12.
Australia-wide there are now more than 2.5 million people living in poverty, including over 600,000 children. Over the past 20 years income and wealth become more concentrated in the hands of fewer people. ACOSS analysis shows that people in the highest 20 per cent income group receive around five times as much income as people in the bottom 20 per cent, while people in the highest 20 per cent have a staggering 70 times more wealth than people in the bottom 20 per cent.
This presents us with a clear and stark reality. More people are becoming poorer while a privileged few are accumulating a greater share of wealth. Too many people in our community are missing out on the prosperity that ought to come from living in a wealthy nation like Australia.
It is worth taking stock during moments like Anti-Poverty Week to examine poverty in our own community and ask what we can do to create a fairer, more just, society.
There were around 60 events across Victoria, ranging from community breakfasts to lunchtime seminars, to workshops and lectures, to community meetings, to services offering legal advice, bill support and food security and material support to the public.
Events included the Connections UnitingCare Anti-Poverty Awards; Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove’s visit to Barwon Child Youth and Families, and the Housing, Transport and Family Hardships seminar at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
The Councils of Social Service called for the development of a national plan to tackle poverty and inequality in Australia, which attracted significant media attention and set the tone for the week.
There were several pieces of research released during the week, including:
New Victorian data from The Salvation Army about people accessing their services revealed a picture of significant hardship in our community. The survey found 70 per cent of Victorian respondents with children couldn’t afford out of school activities, compared to 65 per cent of the Salvation Army service users across the country. Meanwhile, 57 per cent couldn’t afford school books, clothes and equipment, compared to 50 per cent, and 59 per cent had no money for school activities, events and excursions. 91 per cent of respondents were unable to raise $500 savings in case of an emergency.
The Salvos also released two videos to highlight the reality for people living on government payments and asking people to consider whether they could survive on $18 a day.
The St Vincent de Paul Society report – Sick with worry – detailed the experience of people living in poverty with inadequate housing; low incomes; and ill-health and disability.
The Anglicare Australia State of the Family report also revealed that almost 70 per cent of people on welfare are also living well below the poverty line and are relying on charities to survive.
Anti-Poverty Week was also a prominent point of discussion on social media throughout the week with thousands of shares of articles and information. As an example, this opinion piece by Emma King in The Age was shared more than 400 times via Facebook and Twitter: Anti-Poverty Week: poverty is people, not numbers.
Eliminating poverty in our world will take more than the work of a single week of events and awareness raising. Rather, it will take years of sustained effort by millions of people around the world to seek a better, fairer and more inclusive world for future generations.
That’s why we participate in Anti-Poverty Week – because there is the hope that one day, we will no longer need to.