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Why poverty diminishes children’s lives

Let’s make sure that all Australian children and families can cover the basics and have a secure roof over their head.  Children can thrive and be healthy when they have what they need to develop well.

The latest data Poverty in Australia 2022 by ACOSS/UNSW Poverty and Inequality Partnership finds:

  • 1 in 6 children in Australia (16.6% or 761,000) are growing up in poverty which continues to be higher than the rate for adults (12.7%). We note these numbers reflect the average for 2019-2020.
  • The boost in income support payments provided in the early months of the pandemic delivered large reductions in poverty for adults and children (child poverty rates were reduced to the lowest level in 20 years), but the gains were short-lived.
  • While child poverty and overall poverty rates follow similar trends over 20 years (2000-2020), child poverty rates consistently track 3 percentage points higher than rates for the population as a whole.

This Anti-Poverty Week (15-27 October 2023) we are calling on all our Parliamentarians to commit to end child poverty.

Our Federal Parliamentarians need to pass legislation to end child poverty, with measurable targets and actions to achieve this goal.  The New Zealand Government introduced such legislation in 2018 and they’ve made great progress so that fewer children live in poverty. Setting targets enshrined in legislation works and changes lives for the better.

To treat all of Australia’s children fairly, we need to ensure every family has what they need.

A legislated plan to end child poverty would be a huge step to achieving this.

Sign the Valuing Children Initiative Petition for a Child Poverty Reduction Act

#EndChildPoverty #AntiPovertyWeek #APW23

Child poverty exists and diminishes children’s lives now, and in the future

Health and wellbeing: Child poverty means child hunger –the 2022 Foodbank Hunger report released 17 October in APW 2022 found 1.2 million children under 18 are living in a household where someone or all are hungry.  See Single Mum Tiffany goes hungry to ensure her kids have enough to eat.  This affects their learning at school, their sense of belonging and connectedness due to missing out, it affects their physical and mental health, and they worry about their parents.

Insecure housing and risk of homelessness: ABS 2021 Census data on Homelessness found that 1 in 4 people without homes are children aged under 18 years; the number of homeless children under 18 increased by 12% since the 2016 Census, while overall homelessness increased by 5% (from 116,427 to 122,484).  Children at the forefront of the housing crisis are often frequently moving due to high rents, which disrupts school and friendships.

Starting school: In 2021, according to the 2021 Australian Early Development Census, more than 1 in 5 Australian children (22%) 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 1 in 3 who 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 4 times as likely to be developmentally vulnerable in language and cognitive skills as children in the most advantaged areas. More than 4 in 10 (42.3%) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander were developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains. See also the 3rd report on the 2020 National Closing the Gap Agreement published in July 2023 which shows the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are developmentally vulnerable is actually increasing.

At school: For one-in-six Australian children who live in poverty, disadvantage at home carries over into disadvantage at school. Children living in poverty have lower school completion rates and lower scores on national tests such as NAPLAN and students who live in poverty also experience more social exclusion at school than their more advantaged peers.   The 2023 NAPLAN report found average scores for all year levels and all domains for students from the highest socio-educational background were substantially above those from the lowest. Each year, almost 90,000 students do not meet minimum standards for reading or numeracy in NAPLAN. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students in outer regional and remote Australia, and students of parents with low educational attainment are 3 times more likely to fall behind than other students. Productivity Commission, Review of the National School Reform Agreement, 20/1/23.  Research by the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) released on 21/8/23 states that currently very few students who start behind or fall behind, catch up. Their research indicates that only 1 in 5 students who are below the minimum standard in Year 3 are above it in Year 9.  A 2022 Smith Family survey found parents in financial hardship are worried they can’t afford uniforms, books, digital technology and excursions.

To reduce educational disadvantage, action is needed to reduce child poverty, which has remained stubbornly high since the early 2000s.” Professor Gerry Redmond, The Conversation 10/3/22.

Completing education: The likelihood of completing high school or university are two to three times lower for children who are persistently poor (poor for at least three years of their childhoods). 2020 HILDA Survey. Achieving a bachelor degree – only 17.3% of people aged over 15 living in low socioeconomic areas and 7.4% of First Nations people have a bachelor degree, compared with 32% for the whole population aged over 15. Australian Universities Accord Interim Report, July 2023.

Poverty and Child Safety: led by National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds, the Keeping kids safe and well – your voices 2022 report asked children and their families what would help keep children safe and well.  The survey found the top three things children, young people and families said they need to feel safe are: help with housing, mental health services, and basic needs, like food, clothing, transport and school supplies.

The future: 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. Melbourne University, 2020

We can all do something about it

The Centre for Community Child Health is one of Australia’s leading research and policy centres focused on understanding and redressing childhood inequities. As they state: “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).  If early disadvantage including poverty is redressed, half of child health and developmental problems in middle childhood can be reduced”. (submission #10 to the Senate Inquiry into the Nature and Extent of Poverty)

The boost in income support payments provided in the early months of the pandemic delivered large reductions in poverty for adults and children (child poverty rates were reduced to the lowest level in 20 years), but the gains were short-lived.

We need to make sure that every child gets the opportunity to be the best that they can be, because that helps, not just that individual, that’s the key to Australia as well.  We need to be the smart country.” PM Anthony Albanese interview on 7.30, 23/6/22