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Action needed to address rising levels of poverty and inequality

New research by the Melbourne Institute reveals a sharp rise in poverty in Australia from 14.7 percent in 2016 to 18.3 percent in 2021 (households with less 60 percent of median income*) and that extreme poverty remains alarmingly high in remote parts of northern Australia.

Other Melbourne Institute reports released this week show that low-income earners (the people who rely on our means test income support system) are three times more likely to have an earnings shock than higher earners and fewer than half of all people experiencing an earnings shock return to their earlier earnings within three years.

People with disability are much more likely to experience higher rates of economic shocks and are less likely to recover than people without disability, and need greater support than they currently receive.

Anti-Poverty Week Executive Director Toni Wren says:

“We can’t walk away from the reality that the areas of highest poverty shown in the Melbourne Institute’s Community Profile interactive maps are where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities live and are trapped in poverty.

“We also can’t ignore that poverty is gendered. Women are much more likely to experience higher rates of economic shocks and are less likely to recover than men.  While the report doesn’t explicitly examine relationship breakdown, we would expect this is a major reason for women to experience economic shocks and we don’t have the systems in place to protect them and their children from poverty, especially if the relationship breakdown is due to violence.

Earlier research from The Life Course Centre we published, shows that women who experience violence in a relationship have triple the rate of financial hardship as women who don’t experience violence.

“It’s not right that 1 in 6 Australian children (more than 760,000 children) live in poverty and 1.3 million children live in households where some or all are going hungry, with children of single mothers at highest risk.

“We need to end child poverty as we know it significantly reduces success at school for the children who experience it.  Educational attainment is a protective factor from economic shocks and increases the chance of recovering from it.

“We live in a country where the number of homeless children under 18 has grown to 1 in 4 of all people who are homeless, and where more than two-thirds of people who are homeless are women and children under 18 (68%), according to the 2021 Census data.

“We have a growing inequality gap in Australia as reported by ACOSS and the University of NSW – those with the most have increased their wealth by more than 80% in the last 20 years, while those with the least only increasing wealth by 20%.

“Much more needs to be done to support people on low incomes to have enough to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

“One concrete way Australia can act to reduce poverty is to follow the lead of New Zealand and create legislation with measurable targets and actions. In Anti-Poverty Week we invite people to sign our petition calling on our Federal Government to create a Child Poverty Reduction Act.”


More Anti-Poverty Week reports released next week:

23 October – Foodbank Hunger Report 2023

24 October – AHURI Poverty and Australian Housing report

25 October – Melb Inst: Taking the Pulse of the Nation – Research Insight on Financial Insecurity

26 October – Anglicare Australia Essential Connections: the Internet as an essential service

27 October – Melb Inst: Taking the Pulse of the Nation – Barriers to Higher Education Report

 *Note: 60% of median income in 2021 was $487 for a single person, $634 for a single parent with one child and approximately $1000 for a couple with two children.