We want a community in which everyone has access to life’s basic necessities.
More than 325,000 Western Australians (13%) live in poverty, including 85,000 children.
Households affected by poverty earn less than 50% of the median income, but also experience non-material challenges, such as social isolation and exclusion, inadequate education, poor health and low self-confidence. Poverty limits full participation in the community, eg. not having sufficient money for transport makes it difficult to travel for job interviews, social events or sport activities.
Households on low incomes can quickly be thrust into a downward spiral of financial hardship as a result of a health crisis, unemployment, family separation, unexpected cost increases or receiving a fine or infringement.
Many families in Western Australia are faced with agonising decisions every week about how to cover household expenses. Some are forced to make choices between things like paying for food or paying for medicines or rent.
Increasing income inequality is leading to greater class divide and concentrations of social disadvantage in WA.
Those who rely on income support, such as JobSeeker or Youth Allowance, find it impossible to access many of the basic necessities that others take for granted. Problems are compounded by low rental affordability and increasing costs of utilities, transport and food. Increasingly, families are relying on regular emergency relief.
Stagnating wages, the drying up of full-time low skill, entry level jobs and a trend toward casual or short contract work, alongside rising inflation, means that more people in employment are not able to earn a ‘living wage’.
Spiralling cost of living
Rising costs of food, accommodation, transport and utilities means that disadvantaged families are increasingly having to make decisions between which bill to pay. Utility costs can send low income families into bill shock and debt. People on the lowest incomes spend on average 6.4 per cent of their income on energy, compared to households in the highest income quintile, who pay on average only 1.5 per cent. Electricity is the most expensive utility, peaking during hot summer periods.
Limited access to quality early childhood education and care
The high out of pocket cost of care means that children living in the poorest households are least likely to attend preschool. This leaves them developmentally vulnerable in their first five years of life, and potentially perpetuates the cycle of disadvantage across the life span.
Furthermore, lack of early childhood education and care options, combined with high costs of these services, poses a significant barrier to employment. This is particularly an issue for women, single parents, shift workers and those living in regional areas.
Barriers to education, training and employment
For people experiencing entrenched disadvantage, securing and maintaining employment can be particularly challenging. The findings of 100 Families WA research project highlights practical barriers including not having access to transport, childcare, or the right qualifications. Social barriers included a lack of confidence, experiencing fear or anxiety, and requiring greater social support to seek employment or gain a qualification for their desired field. Despite the current low unemployment, there is a shortage of entry level positions that can kick off career pathways.
Young people living independently or in low income households, face significant barriers to education and acquiring the skills they need to access employment opportunities. These include: Bullying and exclusion, stigma, reduced access to digital technologies, and costs associated with education or obtaining a drivers licence. Students growing up in disadvantage often face complex challenges associated with living with domestic violence, family mental health issues or substance abuse, which impacts their ability to develop life skills and progress academically.
Schools are not adequately resourced to meet the increasingly complex pastoral care and learning needs of students. There is a lack of centralised, accredited access point from which schools can get appropriate advice, and limited alternative education pathways for students. Once children are lost within the school system, post school outcomes are poorer.
- Federal Government must:
- permanently increase the rate of JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment and other related payments to above the poverty line. Evidence shows that temporary increases to payments during 2020/21, through the Coronavirus supplement, significantly reduced the material and non-material impacts of poverty and reduced the need for emergency assistance.
- increase the income threshold to allow people on JobSeeker and other income support payments to earn a modest amount before losing benefits.
- increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance and index to local rental markets.
- provide subsidies for digital devices used for education and training.
- facilitate access to low-cost broadband for low income households.
- Federal and State Government must:
- establish the minimum wage as a living wage that is regularly adjusted to maintain a socially accepted minimum standard of living.
- create pathways to industry-level or collective agreements, particularly in low pay industries.
- work together to reform national childcare funding to ensure universal access to high quality early childhood education and care, and prioritise accessibility of care in regional areas.
- invest in entry-level job creation.
- work with Workforce Australia providers and people with lived experience to increase pathways to employment through better tailored and person centred work placements and supported training.
- State Government must:
- increase eligibility for state-based utility concessions.
- implement minimum standards for rental properties (including energy efficiency).
- shift to percentage-based energy concessions. Percentage-based concessions are calculated in proportion to usage, so eligible households with higher energy needs receive more assistance, and help them cope with fluctuations in energy consumption due to health or seasonal variations.
- allow TAFE colleges discretion to waive education fees for disadvantaged students.
- increase pastoral care funding for schools.
- provide funding to support low income people into getting a driver's licence.
Each year, Anglicare WA supports over 21,000 people experiencing financial stress, through services which include:
- Financial counselling
- Financial assistance, support and education
- Hardship Utility Grants Scheme
- No and low interest loans
Some ways we have been advocating for systemic change include:
- Working with Australian Council of Social Services, Anglicare Australia and WA organisations on the Raise the Rate campaign.
- Providing evidence to the State Government inquiry into the most effective ways for Western Australia to address food insecurity for children and young people affected by poverty.
- Partnering with Ngala to draw together research on the impact of poverty on child development in Western Australia, so that the information may be used to inform policy and practice solutions.
- Working with Anglicare Australia on the Jobs Availability Snapshot and using it to support calls for improved opportunities for entry level and low skills workers.
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