The scathing Productivity Commission report into School Reforms shows that much more needs to be done for students experiencing disadvantage - who are three times more likely to fall behind than other students.
As more than 4 million students prepare to go back or start school in coming days, the shocking truth is that one in six Australian children, or five students in a classroom of 30, are growing up in poverty, which will impact their school and life outcomes. As a recent Smith Family survey found - parents in financial hardship are worried they can't afford uniforms, books, or excursions.
The Albanese government is yet to make any explicit commitment to reduce child poverty but 2023 offers three golden opportunities for action, within mechanisms already set up.
The Women's Economic Equality Taskforce is mandated to advance women's economic equality and achieve gender equality and we know that single parent families - predominately single mother families, have the highest poverty rates of any family. Restoring access to the Parenting Payment Single until their youngest child turns 16 and reviewing our woefully inadequate child support scheme should be key recommendations.
The Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee is tasked with advising on the adequacy, effectiveness and sustainability of income support payments. Critical to this is tackling the adequacy of JobSeeker as well as family payments so everyone can afford the basics including rent, food, medication and education. In addition to welcome increases in social and affordable housing, the Government also needs to increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance, so everyone has a safe place to call home.
In November, a third initiative, the development of an Early Years Strategy and associated Summit on 17 February was announced. Again, reducing child poverty needs to be central to this Strategy which covers children aged five and under. Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth has shown she understands what children need: "By getting it right in the early years of a child's life, we can help set the foundations for a happy, healthy, and successful future." But policy commitments and action are needed to lift 760,000 Australian children out of poverty.
Anti-Poverty Week made halving child poverty the focus of our advocacy in 2022, our 20th year of acting on poverty, because the evidence is clear that living in poverty diminishes children's lives now, and into their future.
We should follow the lead of the New Zealand government which has committed to halve child poverty under the Child Poverty Reduction Act 2018. Measures introduced under this bipartisan supported act include: significantly increased government income benefit rates and indexed them to average wage growth, increasing the amount beneficiaries can earn before their benefit reduces; Lifted incomes through a $5.5billion Families; Free and Healthy School Lunches.
Starting school: the Australian Early Development Census has found that "Growing up in poverty is a strong predictor of a child being developmentally vulnerable by the time they start school."
In 2021 it found more than 1 in 5 Australian children were assessed as developmentally vulnerable when they started school, potentially reducing good health, education and social outcomes later in life. For children living in the most disadvantaged areas, more than a third started school developmentally vulnerable.
Children in the most disadvantaged areas had twice the rate of vulnerability in their physical health and well-being and were four times as likely to be developmentally vulnerable in language and cognitive skills as children in the most advantaged areas.
At school: Children living in poverty have lower school completion rates and lower scores on national tests such as NAPLAN and they experience more social exclusion at school than their more advantaged peers. According to the 2020 HILDA Survey, the likelihood of completing high school or university are two to three times lower for children who are poor for at least three years of their childhoods.
The future: Melbourne University research published in 2020 found "Experiencing just a single year of poverty during childhood is associated with poorer socio-economic outcomes in terms of educational attainment, labour market performance and even overall life satisfaction in early adulthood. Children from poor households are 3.3 times more likely to suffer adult poverty than those who grew up in never poor households.
We should not accept these high rates of child poverty in a country as wealthy as Australia. It's just not right and the solutions are clear. Australia should follow the lead taken by New Zealand which is making progress on legislated action to reduce child poverty.
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