Anti-Poverty Week comes as poverty rises in Australia

Contributed by Ugly and Joe Montero

According to the annual Foodbank Report for the last year, one in five Australians went without food at some time, and the number of people helped by the Foodbank rose by 22 percent.

This is the reality of rising poverty in Australia, and much of it is the result in the decline of real jobs and falling incomes.  

The young Have for some time been marginalised into work in the casualised services industry.

Now there is an avalanche of stories revealing the scale of discrimination against older workers.  And the wages share of income continues to fall.

Photo by Mase Mason-Hubers: Age pensioners making a point in Newcastle

Housing unaffordability and debt crisis continue to plague millions.

The Australian government’s response to those in the worst position, is to use Centrelink as an attack dog, to bury this reality from sight and save spending billions on the less fortunate, so they can be handed over to the wealthy.

Some people are being left with no income at all. Thousands are sleeping in the streets every night and the number is rising.

Allocations to the NDIS, which was supposed to ensure better service delivery to those with a disability, have not been spent. not because of better service delivery has been achieved. They have not been spent because it has been made much harder to get help. The scheme was set up to ensure many slip through the net.

At just a little over $600 a fortnight, Newstart remains far below the official poverty line. The unemployed are treated worst of all.  The government is now looking at cutting back on provision for the retired.

What’s supposed to be the welfare arm of government is made punitive and and negotiating the system made so difficult, to purposely stigmatise, punish and dicourage those who come for help. It’s the reason why the robo debt system continues to persist.

A former member of the government’s own Administrative Appeals Tribunal has come out publicly against it.

Public outcry forced a Senate inquiry. This is taking place now and critics have slammed the government’s justification for persisting with the debt creation system.

Behind it all, is an attitude blaming those with less for the situation they find themselves in. This convenient form of reasoning is used, to justify welfare for the rich. The same sort of restrictive measures, are never applied on those going receiving for government contracts, enjoying generous tax concessions, and allowed large scale corporate tax evasion.

Rising welfare for the rich has become a very high priority for the Australian government, used to bolster private accumulation of wealth in a floundering economy.

a drive to create a source of cheap labour is closely related to this.

By withdrawing help for the poorest, is it possible to ensure a large enough number of individuals driven by desperation to work for rock bottom wages and conditions., and use them as a battering ram to drive down wages and conditions for everyone and redivide income upwards.

A counter force is emerging. Organisations looking after the rights of those affected are campaigning for a change.

The Australian Council for Social Service (ACOSS), for example, is participates in the coalition behind Anti-Poverty Week, which akes place from 13-19 October around Australia. Armed with the facts from a range of reports, the main push is for a big increase to Newstart.

ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie said: “With Anti-Poverty Week beginning on Sunday, we again reiterate our call for an urgent increase to Newstart, which is the most effective way to tackle our wealthy country’s persistent rates of poverty. 

“Australia’s income support system was designed to help people when they are going through tough times. But Newstart is not working – the rate has not been increased in real terms for 25 years while living costs have gone through the roof.

“The current rate of $40 per day is too low to give people the support they need to get by. Instead of supporting people, the current Newstart rate forces them into a cycle of debt, social isolation and humiliation that undermines their efforts and risks them slipping through the cracks into entrenched poverty. 

“People on Newstart include young people working to get their foot in the door of the competitive job market, single parents of school-age children, people with a disability or suffering a chronic illness and older people confronting age discrimination.

“By increasing Newstart, the Government can act on poverty while providing needed economic stimulus, creating jobs, including in regional areas.

“There is widespread support for increasing Newstart, including from the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Medical Association, the Country Women’s Association, leading economists and the majority of the community.”

A range of other organisations will hold Anti-Poverty Week events. Dignitaries will participate in some.  The most important will contribute to a campaign to bring the extent of poverty in Australia out into the open, and generate discussion on genuine measures to overcome it.

An important example is being set by law students in Adelaide, who are giving some of their time to help those caught in the robo debt system.

For now the focus is on lobbying government to provide more. Doing this is raising the matter on the public stage. This is important. In the longer -run more than this is needed.

Inevitably, a campaign to fight poverty must touch on its major cause, and this is that the economy is not delivering the needs of society.  The drive for the individual accumulation of wealth is running counter to our collective interests. There must be a balance between individual and the interests of society.

One part of the solution is a different type of thinking, where society prevails on political leaders to shift priorities and ensure that those in need are properly looked after.

The idea that providing benefits is charity must be discarded and replaced, by recognition that to be free of poverty is a fundamental human right that society has a duty to protect.

Another is the need for action to bring about a new economy, organised around our shared interests, and not only private ones, through the rise of new forms of enterprises involving all participating the making of decisions relating to the enterprise’s performance and how it meets identified social needs.

Overall, this is an economy with linkages and a democratic political structure that ensures a proper balance between the individual’s and society’s needs.

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