New report highlights the depth of poverty in Australia

24 Mar 2023

ACOSS and UNSW released their latest report Poverty in Australia 2023: Who is affected?  from their Poverty and Inequality Partnership. This report uses data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to identify the groups facing the highest risk of poverty; and the groups of people most likely to be living in poverty.

The report notes that:

On average, in 2019 – 2020,

  • 1 in 8 people lived below the poverty line
  • 1 in 6 children lived below the poverty line
  • COVID lockdowns dramatically increased poverty until June quarter 2020, when COVID income supports greatly reduced poverty.

The poverty line is based on 50% of median household income ranged from $489 per week for a single person to $1,027 per week for a couple with two children.

In total, over 3.3 million people lived in poverty, including 761,000 children.

On average, people in poverty were in households with incomes $304 per week below the poverty line. People relying on Newstart/JobSeeker payments, Parenting Payment, Youth Allowance, Disability Support Pension or Carer Payment were at great risk of poverty.

Women and girls and poverty

Women were more likely to live in households below the poverty line than men (13.9% as against 12.9% for men). The majority of people in poverty (1,754,000 out of 3,320,000 people, or 53%) were women or girls.

1,765,000 households are in poverty where the main income earner was a woman, compared to  1,554,000 people where the main income earner was a man.

COVID Income Supports lifted people out of poverty

During COVID, poverty fell substantially, by 8.4 percentage points or 389,000 people, among people in households that were reliant on social security. This coincided with the $275 per week Coronavirus Supplement which almost doubled many of the lowest payments.

It also fell substantially by 2.2 percentage points or 401,000 people, among people in households mainly reliant on wages, due to the introduction of JobKeeper Payment. Consistent with this, financial stress among households whose main income was from low-paid employment fell substantially in 2020 compared with 2019.

COVID income supports made an enormous difference to households living in poverty.

The solutions to poverty are clear:

  • Increase the lowest support payments to at least pension levels to protect families and individuals from poverty when they cannot obtain enough work
  • Introduce and improve supplements to cover essential costs including the extra costs of sole parenthood and disability.
  • Commit to full employment based on targets which guarantee there are enough jobs and paid working hours overall for people who need them.
  • Invest in effective employment services to end the entrenched economic exclusion of people such as those unemployed long-term, First Nations communities, people with disability and older people; and to improve access to decent jobs and careers for people entering or returning to paid work including young people, parents and carers.
  • Build more social housing and increase Rent Assistance to improve the supply of secure and affordable homes and help those on the lowest incomes with their largest living expense.