The Injustice of Poverty

15 Oct 2014

This week, Anti Poverty Week, we are reminded and troubled by the struggle faced by many people experiencing poverty. We know that homelessness is always about poverty.

Global Poverty
Of the 7 billion people in our world, almost 3 billion people live on less than $US2.50 per day. 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $US10 per day.

Half of the world’s wealth goes to just 1% of the population and 8% of the world’s population control 82% of the world’s wealth.*

Poverty in Australia
In Australia, the statistics are also compelling. Over 2.5 million people, or 13.9% of the population are living in poverty. The number of people experiencing poverty has increased from 13% of the population in 2010 to 13.9% in 2012.

These figures are sourced from the Australian Council of Social Services report into Poverty in Australia 2014, released last Sunday.

For a single adult, the poverty line is 50% of the median income or $400 per week; for a couple with 2 children, the poverty line is $841 per week.

The report shows that poverty is concentrated among groups facing the most disadvantage and barriers in our community. In summary:

  • Child poverty: 17.7% or just over 602,000 children live in poverty; 36.8% of children in poverty live in a single parent family
  • Unemployed: 61.2% of people who are unemployed live in poverty
  • Income support: 40.1% of people relying on social security payments live below the poverty line: 55.1% of people on the Newstart allowance, 50.6% of people on the Youth allowance, 48% of people on the Disability Support Pension all live in poverty.
  • Working poor: 33.2% of people living below the poverty line are employed, likely to be either employed part time or supporting dependent children on a low wage.

The groups most at risk of experiencing poverty are:

  • Women: 14.7% of women experience poverty compared to 13% of men
  • Children and older people: 17.7% and 14.8% respectively experience poverty
  • Sole Parents: 33% live in poverty, due to lower levels of employment and the low level of social security payments for these families.
  • Born overseas: 18.8% of people born in countries where the main language is not English live in poverty
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: ABS data does not include information to accurately measure this poverty rate, however 2011 HILDA data found 19.3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in poverty, compared to 12.4% of the total Australian population;
  • People with a disability: latest available data does not allow this poverty rate to be calculated, however the previous report found 27.4% of people with a disability were living in poverty in 2009-2010 compared to 12.8% for the total population.

(More information can be found at www.acoss.org.au).

Poverty and Homelessness
Poverty is an underlying cause of homelessness. Other factors implicated in homelessness include family violence, lack of affordable housing, social exclusion, mental illness, disability, addiction and brain injury.

Whilst every person who experiences poverty is not necessarily homeless, every person who experiences homelessness also experiences poverty. Homelessness is always about poverty.

In Australia, the lack of affordable housing and the consequential increase in the cost of housing is increasing the risk of people in housing falling into poverty.

How can we reduce the rate of poverty in Australia?

Poverty is the result of inequality. It is the result of how society is organised. Poverty is not a misfortune, poverty is an injustice. It is systemic, political, degrading and dehumanising.

Asking our governments to implement policies and strategies that result in a fairer distribution of wealth, fairer tax and social welfare systems, fairer access to education, training and employment opportunities, action that reduces discrimination and promotes social inclusion, increased investment in and incentives to provide affordable housing will all help reduce the injustice of poverty and homelessness.

However, it is not only governments that are responsible for addressing poverty. We all have a role to play to eradicate poverty and bring about a fairer society.

* Global statistics sourced from Responding to Global Issues, 2014, by Aine O’Connor RSM, Mercy Co-ordinator of Mercy Global Action at the UN.

To find out more about Anti poverty Week, please click the button below.