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e-connect communicates what the Salvos do through social programs and advocacy

    welcome to this months edition of econnect

poverty traps

Poverty traps

In some circles, in some conversations, it is still fashionable to blame poor people for being poor; to attribute unemployment, or homelessness, or malnourishment, or disadvantage, mental ill health or even addiction squarely and solely on the shoulders of those who suffer those conditions. Research conducted by The Salvation Army, however, suggests that is decidedly not the case.

While there is always the hope that people may rise above their circumstances, as some do, the reality that Salvation Army workers and members encounter on a daily basis is that poverty and marginalisation is entrenched, systemic and insurmountable for many people. A survey of 1,380 Salvation Army clients* showed 69% of respondents are challenged to have enough food on the table each day; 66% of them live under extreme housing stress (using more than half of their limited income on accommodation). Life is unstable: Forty-four percent of respondents had had to move house at least three times in the past 12 months.

 Consider the lot of the single parent in Australia, who has $14 and 35 cents * to spend on their family each day once the cost of accommodation has been factored in. That woman, or man, has to try to provide nutritious food, clothing, transportation, educational supplies.
Almost half (45%) of survey respondents chose to go without meals to try to feed their kids, stretching out that $14 and change. Thirty-one percent of them were forced to sell or pawn possessions; 54% had to borrow money from friends and family where they could; 56% cut down on basic necessities, and 51% had to access vouchers and emergency relief.  

Consider what this life of systemic poverty means for those children of single parents. A third of them could not be taken to the dentist for annual check-ups, let alone further dental treatment. A fifth of the children cannot afford to be given medical treatment, or to purchase prescribed medicines. Two-fifths of these children don’t get to eat fresh fruit or vegetables each day; 25% of them don’t even get fed three meals a day.

This is happening in your suburb, or the neighbouring suburb. Very possibly, there are hungry kids living in your street. Half of them can’t afford the items they need for school, more than half of them (56%) can’t afford to participate in school activities. Half of the kids covered by the survey could not participate in a hobby or activity.

Access to the internet – an educational must – is not affordable to two thirds of households responding to the survey; and three-fifths of the kids can’t access an internet connection. One third of households did not have a computer or tablet/iPad – the devices by which many students and parents communicate with schools these days, and by which teachers set homework and assessment tasks.   

You can talk about concepts such as individual responsibility and mutual obligation. But when it comes to the everyday reality of Australians trapped in poverty, there is a clear obligation on the part of us all Barry Gittinsto refrain from blaming the victims of this depressing truth – there are not enough resources for many people to raise their children in a healthy, safe environment. That this is happening in one of the wealthiest countries and buoyant economies in the world should give us pause.

Barry Gittins
consultant – writer/researcher

* All statistics are from The Salvation Army’s annual national Economic and Social Impact Survey (ESIS) 2017.
Click here for ESIS 2017  


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