One in eight adults and one in six children live below the relative poverty line in Australia, according to a new report.
The 2020 Poverty in Australia Overview, published by the Australian Council of Social Service (Acoss) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) shows 13.6% — over 3 million people, including 774,000 children — are living in poverty, up from 13.2% in the previous year.
A relative poverty line has been used to determine the figures.
The line is set at 50% of median household disposable income, before deducting housing costs — which relates to a single adult surviving on $457 AUD per week or a couple with two children on $960 per week.
"It’s not right that in Australia, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, more than 3 million people, including three-quarters of a million children, are living in poverty,” said Acoss CEO Cassandra Goldie in a press release. “We want to support each other. It’s who we are as a nation. But our economy is leaving people behind, with persistently high poverty rates despite decades of uninterrupted economic growth.”
The report shows some of the key drivers of poverty in Australia were rising housing costs, the changing job market and the rate of social security payments — all of which have predominantly impacted young job-seeking Australians, single parents and the elderly.
Particular emphasis was placed in the report on the failure of social security payments to keep people out of poverty.
The amount provided for single people without kids on the Youth Allowance — with the inclusion of Rent Assistance and extra government support to pay energy bills through the Energy Supplement — is $168 per week less than the poverty line. Likewise, Newstart, a government-issued income support for job-seeking Australians, provides individuals with $117 per week less than the poverty rate.
“There have been increases in rents since about 2005, and there has also been a shift of homeownership rates, which have fallen over the past two decades, as has the proportion of people in public housing. Those things have combined,” UNSW researcher Bruce Bradbury told Guardian Australia. “Unemployed people have been left behind. Newstart has fallen behind median income; it’s also fallen behind wages. It’s a lower fraction of the minimum wage than it used to be.”
The report comes a month after Acoss declared it was now asking for Newstart to increase payments by $95 per week.
The allowance currently pays $279.50 a week for a single person with no children and has not had a real-term raise in 25 years. Alongside increases to social security payments like Newstart and the Youth Allowance, the report also calls on the government to boost growth in jobs and finance low and middle income housing.
“It’s clear we must act to lift people out of poverty,” Goldie said. “The government can reduce poverty by boosting growth in jobs, increasing Newstart and Rent Assistance, and investing in social housing to ensure everyone has a safe place to call home.”