The government's budget appears to have the most disadvantaged in their sights, but it doesn't go far enough to significantly reduce poverty in Australia, especially child poverty.
The Treasurer says the budget provides "meaningful steps" to assist those on the lowest incomes trapped in poverty. More like baby steps.
In choosing to increase Jobseeker and Rent Assistance they've pulled the right levers, but they have been far too penny pinching with increases falling well short of what was needed to lift them 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 children have the highest poverty rates of any age group and the evidence is clear that living in poverty diminishes children's lives now, and into their future.
The ACOSS/UNSW Poverty and Inequality Partnership Poverty in Australia 2022 found one in six children in Australia (761,000) are growing up in poverty which continues to be higher than the rate for adults (one in eight).
It also found the risk of poverty for children in single parent families is more than three times that in partnered families (39 per cent compared with 12 per cent).
Single parents sacrifice their own needs every day to ensure the best for their children. Investing in single parents means investing in our children.
The announcement to increase eligibility for Parenting Payment Single (PPS), taken with the abolition of Parent's Next, is welcome recognition that the government is prepared to right the wrong done to single parents, mainly mothers, as far back as 2006.
While the Morrison government ensured Parenting Payment Single recipients received the Coronavirus Supplement in 2020 and the permanent $50 a fortnight increase which replaced it in April 2021, this Labor government has chosen to specifically exclude them from the $40 a fortnight increase flowing to others on JobSeeker and related working age payments.
This means nearly half a million children living in more than 230,000 single parent families will miss out. This is four times the number of families (57,000) who benefit from the increase in eligibility until the youngest child turns 14.
While Parenting Payment Single is $176/fortnight more than JobSeeker and closer to the level of the age pension, these parents are caring for children and have much higher costs especially for housing as they need a minimum of two bedrooms not one.
Too many families relying on payments cannot afford to live in rental housing, and there is still not enough social housing available, so they are increasingly at risk of homelessness.
Being able to grow up in a stable secure home is crucial for all children to thrive and do well, but the latest census data from 2021 shows that we have an increasing number of children experiencing homelessness.
A quarter of people without homes are now children aged under 18 years and 68 per cent, or nearly 83,000 homeless people, are women and children under 18 years.
Family payments have been raided by successive governments and they don't make up for the extra costs of raising children. The child support scheme is also a major problem contributing to high rates of child poverty. Cutting Parenting Payment Single recipients out of the budget's very modest increase is a mean and unnecessary decision.
The Treasurer has chosen to invest $200 million in place-based community interventions to tackle disadvantage and poverty. This is not a new idea.
We hope that this round of projects brings about sustainable improvements, but they can never be a substitute for ensuring people living in these communities have enough money to cover the basics.
Research presented to the Senate Inquiry into Poverty by the Centre for Community Child Health confirmed that "increased household income benefits children directly through better food, stable housing, and healthcare (the 'investment' model), and indirectly through improved parent mental health and capacity (the 'family stress' model).
They went on to say, "If early disadvantage including poverty is redressed, half of child health and developmental problems in middle childhood can be reduced".
Australians care about poverty and want our governments to tackle it. The Coalition misread public sentiment when it accused the government of "dividing us" by providing help for people really doing it the toughest.
As recent research by the RedBridge Group concluded "most voters we talk to want government to look after people first and foremost ... Middle Australia wants to see government extend a helping hand, not the boot, to those less fortunate than them".
Children living in poverty continues to be of great concern to most Australians, reconfirmed by recent community attitudes polling by The Smith Family.
In 2023, Anti-Poverty Week will continue to advocate for the introduction of a Child Poverty Reduction Act with the aim of ending child poverty for all. Let's hope we see this progress before the 2024 budget.
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