Despite our prosperity, the latest ACOSS Poverty in Australia report (2016) found that 731,000 or 17 per cent of children under the age of 15 are living in poverty. This figure has increased by 2 per cent over 10 years.
Single parent families locked out of paid work are at particularly high risk of poverty, and 40 per cent of all children in poverty in Australia live in single-parent households. Alleviating poverty has a positive impact on everybody, as unmet needs, exclusion and limited opportunities that come from growing up in poverty, can have a powerful negative impact on children that continues into adulthood.
Children and young people living in deprived circumstances are more likely to become disengaged from education due to problems like hunger, shame and fear of being excluded or marginalized. This has flow-on effects for children’s development, educational outcomes, and eventually employment opportunities. Evidence shows that reducing poverty leads to better health, education and employment outcomes for children. We can and we must demand better oppertunitys for our children.
There is deep concern about the increasing number of children living their formative years in poverty. This is in stark contrast to progress made in previous decades when the share of children living below the poverty line fell from 14 per cent in 1983 to 8 per cent in 1990.
These statistics show we’ve been moving backwards – not forwards - since those immortal words spoken by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke - that no child will live in poverty.
This year marks 30 years since former Prime Minister Bob Hawke made the commitment that “by 1990, no child will be living in poverty’’.
At the time, this statement was criticised as being too ambitious, but reforms introduced by the Hawke Government helped to reduce child poverty by 30 per cent. These statistics show that since then we’ve been moving backwards – not forwards
The key reforms made by the Hawke Government included:
• A new supplement for low-income families to help meet the cost of living
• Increasing existing family payments to reflect the cost of raising children
• Linking family payments to wage growth, to keep pace with the cost of living and community living standards
• Providing rent assistance to help families and others on low incomes to cover the rent
From 1987, spending on family payments grew, and because payment rates were increased, steps were taken to ensure families accessed entitlements. The core principle was that family payments should at least cover the basic costs of looking after children for families with low paying jobs, or lacking employment altogether. Broader policies targeting parents and children were also implemented, including encouraging carer-friendly workplaces, expanding childcare and improving fee relief, and a new program offering career counselling, education and training for sole parents.
Thirty years since these bold reforms, child poverty is back on the rise. Today, many Australian children experience severe hardship. There are parents and children who are forced to skip meals, children miss sporting and school activities. They do without heaters, fridges and phones. Families are evicted from their accommodation and forced into homelessness.
Social security payments for families and particularly single-parent families has been slashed in recent years, with cuts included in almost every federal budget since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The reduction in social security spending combined with low and stagnant wages, insecure work and the high cost of living has pushed many parents and their children back into poverty.
The Benevolent Society supports the calls by ACOSS for the government to take swift and determined action to reduce child poverty. The federal government can do this by:
1. Committing to reducing poverty by at least 50% by 2030, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals
2. Increasing Newstart Allowance, including for single parents
3. Establishing a single parent supplement that increases as children grow older and they cost more to support
4. Indexing working age and family payments to wage movements as well as prices
5. Improving employment and training programs for single parents, including career counselling and vocational training
6. Guaranteeing secure affordable housing, including working with state and territory governments to abolish no-cause evictions
7. Restoring two days of weekly subsidised childcare available to parents not in paid employment.
Australia’s child poverty trend is heading in the wrong direction. We must reverse this trend.
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