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.