Why does poverty look different in Australia?
A revelation about the circumstances of over 730,000 children in Australia hit our nation hard recently. What’s going on? And what’s the solution?
02 Nov, 2016
We live in a nation with bountiful opportunity, rich with natural resources and lead by a democratic government who provides a safety net for almost all circumstances and sectors of society.
But last month we found out over 730,000 Australian children are living in poverty*.
I was shocked.
Poverty. Did I read that correctly? It didn’t say Africa, or Asia, but Australia. The issue is right here on our doorstep.
‘Our national shame’ the media branded it. So what do we need to know and how as Christians living in Australia should we respond to this?
Firstly, let’s understand the source of this statistic.
The research came from a report called ‘Poverty in Australia’, conducted by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the Social Policy Research Centre. Shockingly, the report showed that despite more than 25 years of economic growth, 13.3 per cent of the population in Australia is living in poverty. It also found there was a 2 per cent increase in child poverty from 2004 to 2014.
ACOSS chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie described the data as "disturbing". "We have made virtually no impact over the last ten years on the level of poverty in Australia," she said*.
And then the finger pointing began from both the political and economic sector. ‘It’s about welfare, or employment or the workforce, or helping single parent families’; the solutions suggested were many and varied.
Reading the commentary, I couldn’t help but think that no one actually had the answer.
And that’s because poverty is complex.
ACOSS defines the poverty line in Australia as $426.30 a week for a single adult and $895.22 a week for a couple with two children.
This is different to how the World Bank defines poverty. The global poverty line, as of October 2015, is $1.90 per day.
But though the poverty line in Australia is higher than the global standard, it’s important to remember that poverty looks very different in different nations. There is need everywhere in the world and it’s not always helpful to compare that need.
Even within the 26 countries where Compassion works, poverty looks different. Breaking the cycle of poverty in Colombia requires different strategies to breaking the cycle for families in Burkina Faso. There is never a ‘one size fits all’ approach to poverty.
And that’s why poverty should never be talked about in just economic terms.
As our CEO Tim Hanna says, “Poverty is not a humanitarian issue, it’s a spiritual issue”.
The report points to one factor which has a huge impact on the likelihood of poverty for children, and that’s families. Children in lone-parent families are more than three times more likely to be living in poverty than their counterparts in couple families, with a poverty rate of 40.6 per cent compared to 12.5 per cent*.
It’s interesting that none of the commentators wanted to address these two statistics. But the same factor plays a part in the countries where Compassion works, where parents are no longer together or there is spousal abandonment. Despite the best and often heroic efforts of a single parent, poverty often prevails.
Broken relationship with God, broken relationship with God’s creation, broken relationship with others. This is one part of poverty that can’t be ignored.
It shouldn’t surprise us that poverty exists in Australia, because wherever there is broken relationship with God and others, there will be poverty of some form.
Jesus is the only answer for the broken human heart.
That’s what Compassion believes, and that’s why, in the nations where our programs run, it’s about working with the local church to bring the hope of Jesus to children and their families, as well as providing support to overcome children’s physical poverty.
Children deserve to flourish and thrive. They deserve the opportunity to know the love of Jesus, no matter what country they are born in. Let’s not get overwhelmed by the need, but let’s also not overlook the need in our own nation.
What can I do?
There are so many wonderful faith-based organisations operating in Australia that exist to see children and families thrive. Maybe you could consider giving to one of these? Christians Against Poverty, The Salvation Army and Mission Australia are just a few working in Australian communities.
You may like to look into the Indigenous Program that our generous supporters help to fund, giving Indigenous children in North Queensland access to early education. Without these programs, Indigenous children can struggle when they arrive at the school for the first time, falling behind right from the start. By providing access to Indigenous-focused early education, the children can establish strong foundations for future success.
Importantly, get involved in your local church—scripture teaching, youth, community outreach. The Church is and always will be God’s answer on the earth for the hurting, the broken and the lonely.
This content was correct at the time of publishing. Compassion closed its programs in India on 15 March 2017 and no longer works in that nation.
Words by Rebekah Wilesmith
Stock image used.