How will COVID-19 impact poverty?
Published: 26 June 2020
According to Poverty in Australia 2020, a joint paper from Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and The University of New South Wales (UNSW), 3.24 million Australians are living under the poverty line.
For many Australians, the Federal Government has implemented temporary financial assistance through JobKeeper and JobSeeker to help ease the financial burden of COVID-19, but these were always flagged as temporary measures.
What will COVID-19’s impact on poverty look like in both the short and long term? Bashful Extroverts spoke with the National President of Australian Association of Social Workers, Christine Craik to gain a better understanding.
Australia and poverty
From the joint study, ACOSS and UNSW were able to determine three key factors that cause poverty — being a single parent family, not having adequate and secure work, and the high cost of renting.
“Of course, there are many people who fall into all three categories however, single parent families headed by women make up the largest cohort in our community in this category and the largest cohort in our community of families living in poverty,” Christine said.
“In fact, people who are unemployed are at serious risk of living in poverty. There are two reasons for this.”
The first being that income support payments are too low to survive on as they do not cover the cost of food, health care, housing and transport.
“It is too low to cover the basic cost of living,” Christine said.
“People living on Newstart have reported to ACOSS that they do not eat three meals a day because they can’t afford it.”
The second reason is that people on low income support do not have the resources to upskill and find work.
“People who literally cannot afford to eat also cannot afford internet access, mobile phones, training courses, public transport, decent clothes and other things that are necessary to apply for a job and attend an interview,” Christine said.
“This, alongside the low-level of earnings allowed before loss of concessions and loss of income support is triggered, is what is meant by the term; ‘poverty trap’.”
A poverty trap is pervasive, and will often cause generational poverty as often times a cycle forms and breaking it is incredibly difficult.
Christine gave Bashful Extroverts an example of what a poverty trap in the Australian context looks like.
“A woman on a supporting payment, working 20 hours per week as a casual will be worse off financially than if she was not working as she may lose her concession card, or a huge slice of income support.”
If Australia’s current income support policies are ineffective, what else can be done to help eradicate poverty in the post-COVID 19 landscape?
Broaden your focus
“Some people think of poverty as an economic concept and to fully understand the serious implications of poverty, it is important to broaden our focus,” Christine said.
“People cannot participate in the activities that most people take for granted. While many Australians juggle payments of bills, people living in poverty have to make difficult choices – such as skipping a meal to pay for a child’s school supplies, or avoiding filling prescriptions.”
Christine says that the government needs to pull up its socks and put in the work for the long term effects of COVID-19.
“Things will be more difficult in the long term for those already living in poverty. We know that at the present time, many more people are out of work and it will take the economy some time to recover.”
“The best thing the Australian government could do is to move on from attitudes that create a false distinction between ‘deserving poor’ and ‘undeserving poor’.
“Poverty is poverty, and it is a weapon of mass destruction. We need policy change for levels of income support, for employment initiatives that will benefit women and changes to the tax system that no longer allow the rich to get richer, while the poor remain in housing insecurity and in poverty.”
For anyone who is in a financial position to support those in need they can donate to a range of charities and foundations which are fighting poverty. However, Christine says there is an important first step we all need to take.
“The first step is community awareness and education around these issues. The community needs to be aware of the myths and negative stereotypes about people in poverty and support appropriate and sensible taxation measures to ensure a liveable and viable income support system which will benefit all.”
If you aren’t in a financial position to support those in need Christine says a huge part of countering poverty is to make it a political issue.
One way to do this is to write to your local MP about poverty. Results and Oxfam both have valuable letter writing templates and guidelines.