Number of Aussies in poverty tipped to rise, advocate warns
The number of Australians trapped in poverty will continue to rise amid an “inadequate” response to the pandemic that has supercharged the housing crisis, an advocate has warned.
Anti Poverty Week executive director Toni Wren said wealth inequality in Australia was already severe before the pandemic hit but “totally avoidable” lockdowns had caused harm for years to come.
“Even before this pandemic struck, there were more than three million Australians who were locked in poverty ... and I think that number will continue to rise,” Ms Wren told the National Press Club on Wednesday.
“That’s because of the consequences of the pandemic and our inadequate policy responses to it.
“That just doesn’t feel right, in one of the wealthiest countries of the world.”
Ms Wren said government failure to procure vaccines in 2020 and roll them out quickly enough led to “totally avoidable lockdowns” for the community, causing damage for years to come.
The pandemic also “supercharged” the housing affordability crisis, driving a jump in reliance on private rental after decades of government failure to invest in social housing.
“The pandemic, despite many predictions, actually has supercharged these factors. Prices are going up whether you’re buying or renting,” Ms Wren said.
“In the year to June regional rents across Australia went up by 11 per cent and in some parts of coastal Queensland, it was 30 per cent.
“Those percentages translate into higher rents that people simply can’t afford to.”
Most Australians who have retired up until now have owned their own home, but as the rental and buying crisis continued, many people were expected to retire without owning their own home — an “alarming” prospect.
In addition to a housing affordability crisis, the number of people needing unemployment payments was expected to rise, Ms Wren said.
But JobSeeker, even with the welcome permanent increase in April, is still only $45 a day — well below the poverty line of $65 a day, she said.
“It is $165 a week below the age pension, which nobody thinks is too generous,” Ms Wren said.
“There are over a million people receiving those payments and for every single one of them, they are living in poverty.
“But I think that we are going to see from the pandemic these JobSeeker numbers rise, because JobSeeker, despite its name, is actually a catch call for a whole lot of other things that are happening in the community.”
More people with illnesses were also expected, following lockdown, some of whom would need JobSeeker.
“If you are sick, including if you are having cancer treatment, there is no sickness benefit in Australia. You are on JobSeeker and we will expect to see an increase in illnesses flowing from the pandemic,” Ms Wren said.
“We know already there are 145,000 fewer mammograms conducted by BreastScreen Australia in the first six months of 2020 because of the pandemic. Those screenings that save many lives, and I am one of them, did not happen.”
Ms Wren said the best form of welfare invested early to save higher costs down the track and Australia had the wealth to pay for it.
“The best form of welfare protects you from poverty when you get ill, when you acquire a disability, when you lose your job, or you go through a relationship breakdown - and that’s about 70 per cent of us over a 10 year period that need that welfare support,” she said.
“We’ve got the evidence to design it. We just need to demand it from all our political representatives.”
Originally published as Number of Aussies in poverty tipped to rise, advocate warns
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