It’s been 30 years since then Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke famously said: "No child will be living in poverty by 1990." But not only does the problem still exist, it is growing. In fact, according to latest research by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), around 730,000 children and youth are trapped in disadvantage. The research also suggests that around 13% of the country’s population live below the breadline. Among this number, indigenous children and children from single-parent families suffer the most.
What makes this statistic alarming is that Australia is one of the wealthiest nations on Earth, home to natural resources and the product of one of the biggest mining booms in history.
So what's driving this increase in Australia's child poverty in times where the nation's wealth continues to grow?
Although incomes and standards of living have also increased for Australians, so has the cost of living. In the last 10 years the consumer price index (CPI) in Sydney has increased over 29% while the growth in wages has hit an 18 year low. This essentially means that the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer and into more debt.
At the beginning of the year, Sydney and Melbourne became two of the least affordable cities in the world. This has been driven by surging house prices where Australia is second only to Hong Kong which may seem odd, given Hong Kong's lack of land and close proximity to China.
Moreover, housing affordability is generally thought to be worsening today. According to Tony Keenan, chief executive of Launch Housing, a big provider of homeless services, a combination of factors was wreaking havoc on the working poor’s ability to afford housing:
· A steady decline in social housing provided by the Government
· Population increases that drove an 80 percent rise in house prices
rental assistance to match changes in the rental market
All these can lead to massive financial pressure for families with low or single incomes.
Median Prices increasing in all AU States. Photo - Demographia
Aside from belonging to families who are poor or have to live on a single-incomes, children and youth can also become victims of homelessness for reasons beyond economic or residential instability.
According to Homelessness Australia, the definition of “homeless” goes beyond one’s usual idea of a person rough sleeping on the streets. Homelessness may also mean that their current “dwelling is inadequate; or has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable or does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations."
That is, they may have families and a house to live in, but it may not be permanent, safe and secure place to stay.
Eventually, many youth are forced to finally leave home due to insufferable living conditions, and after years of physical and sexual abuse, parental neglect, and strained relationships.
Some people are able to plug in the gap, by staying with friends and relatives, or in temporary housing. Many, however, are not as fortunate.
Indigenous children are some of those who suffer the most. Photo credit: Asanka Ratnayake
Despite the different reasons why Australians may live in poverty, one thing remains constant – it’s the children and youth who suffer the most. Apart from the estimate on the number of children currently living in poverty, one particularly concerning area, it also revealed, is that the number has steadily increased since 2003.
These problems persisted, despite
more than 25 years of economic growth for the country.
Cassandra Goldie, ACOSS’s chief executive, criticised Australia’s political leaders for letting the problem fester, and has called it a “national shame”.
The report, she explains, is a further wake-up call to the Australian government – to address the inadequacy of support for low-income families, to fix the housing system which remains the biggest cost of living issue for households, and ultimately, to fix the mindset that poverty is an individual’s problem. Rather, we shall see it as our shared responsibility as a nation.