Chapter 18 - Future directions
...tackling poverty is a long journey that we must take
together, and we need to do it nationally as well as in our own communities. We
recognise that there are no quick fixes.
18.1 Evidence to the
Committee highlighted the inadequacies of the current approaches to poverty
alleviation, especially the lack of a clear national focus.
This chapter looks at the need for a comprehensive, national whole of
government approach to poverty alleviation in Australia. It also reviews the
need for structural changes to reduce poverty in this country, as well as an
integrated policy framework to promote social and economic sustainability.
The need for a national strategy
18.2 Submissions and
other evidence emphasised during the inquiry that currently Australia has no
clear national objective to reduce poverty, nor strategies to combat poverty
and social exclusion. Such a framework would provide a concrete set of broadly
supported goals and policy priorities in relation to poverty reduction. ACOSS
Governments have an important role to play in drawing attention
to poverty and disadvantage, taking action to reduce it and monitoring progress
to address it. Progress is much more likely to be made when governments make
commitments that are tied to benchmarks. If Australia is serious about tackling
poverty and making sustainable improvements in living standards and
opportunities for all, a comprehensive national strategy is needed.
18.3 The development
of a national approach to poverty alleviation and a national commitment to
reduce poverty was widely supported during the inquiry by advocacy groups and
the welfare sector.
Governments also indicated their support for a national approach. The South
Australian Government proposed:
...the development of a national agenda on poverty that will
inform key Commonwealth reform initiatives, facilitate collaboration between
the States and Commonwealth and inform policy development in key portfolios
such as housing, health, and family and community services.
Likewise, the Victorian Government stated that:
...it is now time to reaffirm our national commitment to equity
and our determination to match our continued high levels of growth with higher
levels of equity...we need to undertake a serious analysis of the drivers of
poverty, the composition of poverty in Australia in 2003, and the strategic
approaches that could be adopted to develop a coordinated national response.
Whole of government approach
strongly supported a whole of government approach to poverty alleviation
involving all levels of government – Commonwealth, State and local. For
example, UnitingCare Australia argued the need for 'developing a whole of
government – and, by that, I mean across portfolios and different levels of
government – framework for engaging with poverty that has indicators and
benchmarks attached to it as a way forward'.
Catholic Welfare Australia argued that an anti-poverty strategy would seek to
coordinate all elements of government policy initiatives and coordinate
different spending and taxation elements so that it would be one coordinated
and mutually consistent reinforcing strategy.
18.7 Such an approach
would provide for the development of a set of integrated policies covering a
range of areas including employment; education and training; housing; health;
early childhood education; aged care services; and services for people with
18.8 In Ireland, a
system of 'poverty proofing' of government policy was introduced, which is a
process by which Government departments and agencies and local authorities
assess policies and programs at design and review stages in relation to the
likely impact that they will have, or have had, on poverty. The Combat Poverty
Agency noted that 'the idea [is] that anything being done in a government
department would have some impact assessment, in relation to its impact on
18.9 Submissions and
other evidence pointed to the often bewildering array of Commonwealth, State
and local government programs with a poverty-related focus which are often
conceived of with only a limited local focus and very limited coordination
between different levels of government. The SVDP National Council, commenting
on Commonwealth-State funding arrangements, stated that:
At the moment it is absolutely crazy. You have a
Commonwealth-state housing agreement here, which is totally separate from
education grants over here, and they do not consider it when they are
considering hospital funding over here. They are all disjointed but they are
all part of the same problem.
From a State Government perspective, the South Australian Government
noted that the Commonwealth Government's Strengthening Families and Communities
strategy, while containing many useful elements, is not linked to any state
government initiatives in the same policy area.
Submissions, nevertheless, pointed to areas where there are currently
attempts at a national approach to specific areas of social need illustrating
that it would be possible to develop a similar approach in relation to poverty
alleviation. The South Australian Government pointed to the National Agenda for
Early Childhood which involves a collaborative approach between the
Commonwealth and the States. It was argued that this approach would seem to be
capable of engaging the broad range of stakeholders and governments in the
FaCS also commented on the Commonwealth's innovative approach in the area of
early childhood development, noting that:
Departments are working around those issues [of early childhood]
in ways that they have not worked together before, to find shared objectives in
investing more effectively in early childhood development...that is an indication
of a recognition that the issues need to be looked at in a way – and in a whole
of government way – that has not been done before...The process of discussion
that the government has initiated, with very wide buy-in not only across
Commonwealth departments but also across state governments, will be important
in...helping us move forward.
A number of States/Territories are adopting a more integrated, whole of
government approach to poverty alleviation. Details of the Australian Capital
Territory Government's approach is illustrated below.
While these are valuable State-based initiatives an overarching national
approach is needed.
ACT: Integrated Approach
to Addressing Poverty
The ACT Government has adopted a
comprehensive, whole of government approach to delivering policies to people in
poverty in the ACT. As a first step, it has sought to establish a baseline for
disadvantage in the ACT supported by evidence rather than anecdote.
The project – Addressing
Disadvantage – consisted of four parts:
- mapping ACT Government services
for people experiencing disadvantage and those in poverty;
- locating and analysing poverty in
- researching the need for and
provision of human services in the ACT; and
- consulting about disadvantage with
non government organisations.
The mapping has provided the Government with a clear
picture of the services it funds for people experiencing disadvantage and those
Research done for the project by the National Centre
for Social and Economic Modelling showed that financially disadvantaged people
live in all suburbs in the ACT. This has significant implications for service
delivery, and shows that targeting resources to a few suburbs would not assist
the majority of the ACT's financially disadvantaged.
Work commissioned from the Australian Institute of
Health and Welfare showed that Canberra's human services are more likely to be provided
through the home and community. This also has implications for service planning
and provision. For the first time, a Government of the ACT has a clear picture,
based on nationally consistent data, of human services and the people who access
the support they provide.
ACTCOSS consulted with non-government organisations
and found that people in the ACT experience multiple types of disadvantage,
have complex needs and require holistic person-centred services. This points to
the need for multidisciplinary services based on the needs of the individual.
The project identified a range of areas where service
provision could be strengthened, including education, youth and family
services, health, disability and housing.
ACT Government, Addressing Disadvantage in the ACT,
Canberra 2003; ACT Chief Minister, Key Report to Guide Social Plan, Media
Release, 9 June 2003.
A national approach to poverty alleviation
As noted above, submissions and other evidence argued that a national
approach to poverty needed to be developed in Australia. Evidence indicated
that the elements of a comprehensive strategy for poverty alleviation required:
- the development of an agreed national benchmark measure of
the development of a national anti-poverty strategy in consultation
with key government, welfare, community and business stakeholders; and
implementation structures to support the anti-poverty strategies
These issues are discussed below.
Agreed national poverty benchmark
As discussed in previous chapters, there is little agreement about how
to measure relative poverty in Australia. During the inquiry it became
clear that the absence of agreement about a core measure of poverty in Australia
has frustrated an informed debate and contributed to a sustained policy
paralysis in addressing and reducing poverty in this country.
While there is no official poverty line in Australia, the Henderson
poverty line has been widely used for decades in Australian poverty studies,
although as noted in chapter 2, it has been criticised by some commentators
for, in particular, overstating the level of poverty due to the method used to
regularly update the poverty line.
Many witnesses argued that while there is little prospect of agreement
on the adoption of a poverty line in Australia a combination of measures or the
construction of a new measure may be more appropriate.
Professor Saunders argued that:
...the more ways we can come at the problem the better, because
the danger with putting all your eggs in one poverty line basket, as it were,
is that if the poverty line itself is subject to criticism you lose the lot.
One important reason for trying to get a number of different handles on the
issue allows us to say: "These things are robust at least in relation to
this group. We've tried five different ways of measuring this group, and on all
five measures this group is poor". That is much more convincing than
saying, "We have one measure, and they are poor on that measure".
A number of different approaches are possible. For example, some
submissions argued that deprivation indicators could be developed as
alternatives to, or complementary measures to, income poverty measures.
Other submissions argued that expenditure data could be used to supplement
income data to measure living standards, given that reported incomes may not be
a reliable indicator of a person's standard of living.
These approaches are discussed in more detail in chapter 2.
Evidence pointed to overseas examples as providing possible models. The United
States adopted an official poverty line in 1968. The poverty line was
determined by a minimum food budget for a family of four (which represented a
third of family expenditure). The food budget was multiplied by three to obtain
the overall minimum budget, and those with incomes below this were counted as
poor. Since then the US poverty line has been updated in line with prices. It
is therefore an absolute measure, with a fixed real value, that has not taken
account of changing consumption needs. By the mid-1990s the poverty line had
fallen to an equivalent of less than one third of median household income. A recent
review of the official poverty measure by the US National Research Council
suggested that it should be revised to reflect not only price changes, but also
changes in the consumption of basic necessities.
In contrast to adopting a single absolute poverty measure, Member States
of the European Union (EU) have agreed to a multi-dimensional range of
indicators. In relation to low income, Eurostat, the European statistical
agency, has adopted a relative measure – based on 60 per cent of median income
– as an indicator to compare Member States of the EU. Other indicators of low
income, such as persistent low income have also been agreed by the EU. Agencies
of the EU also have a set of commonly agreed indicators of poverty and social
inclusion encompassing different measures of low income, employment,
educational attainment and health outcomes.
The Irish Government has adopted a different approach to measuring poverty. The
Government applies a 'consistent poverty' measure which identifies those
families who have both very low incomes and who report expenditure
difficulties in being able to afford essentials.
National anti-poverty strategy
A variety of options were suggested during the inquiry as to how a
national anti-poverty strategy could be developed. ACOSS suggested that such a
strategy should be established at the national level, in collaboration with
State governments, through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). ACOSS
argued that such a strategy should be developed over a 12 month period of
consultation, including the convening of a national anti-poverty summit.
A number of State Governments also suggested the COAG process could be a
The South Australian Government suggested that the possible processes under the
COAG model would be an initial reference to COAG to set its agenda, the
establishment of a Ministerial Council on Poverty and the establishment of a
high profile board to engage community and business stakeholders. The South
Australian Government argued, however, that the weakness of this approach is
that it is driven and owned by Governments and bureaucracies with little scope
for other stakeholders to participate.
Ireland's National Anti-Poverty
Ireland's National Anti-Poverty Strategy (NAPS) also provides a
potential model. Following the United Nations World Summit for Social
Development in 1995, the NAPS was established in 1997 as a governmental
commitment to a ten year plan for the reduction of poverty in Ireland. The
Government set up an interdepartmental policy committee – comprising
representatives of several Departments including those dealing with welfare,
community and family affairs, education and health and also undertook analysis
and consultation in terms of coming up with the strategy.
NAPS focused on a number of key themes including income adequacy, unemployment,
educational disadvantage, rural poverty and disadvantaged urban areas. Each of
these themes was set a target for the reduction of poverty within their
respective areas, and a global target was also set as an overall aim. Details
of the strategy are provided below.
The National Anti-Poverty Strategy
- An explicit definition of poverty:
consistent poverty – where a person has less than 70 per cent of median income
and does not have access to basis items (as detailed below); and income poverty
– where a person has an income less than 60 per cent of the median income.
Consistent poverty has declined from 14.5 per cent in 1994 to 5.2 per cent in
2001, whereas income poverty has increased from 15 per cent in 1994 to 22 per
cent in 2001.
- A global poverty reduction target
and sub-targets in the areas of educational disadvantage, unemployment,
adequacy of social transfers, disadvantaged urban areas and rural poverty.
The global target relates both to
the numbers below relative income poverty lines and the experience of basic
deprivation (access to necessities measured by a set on non-monetary
deprivation indicators) including:
going without a substantial meal
- not being able to afford adequate
- having to buy second hand clothes
- not being able to afford an
In addition to the standard
indicators other indicators employed relate to:
- Financial: measure of consistent
poverty; decile ratio shares
- Education: numbers without basic
qualifications; early school leaving; training qualifications
- Employment: youth unemployment,
proportion of employees below poverty line, children in jobless households
without basic qualifications, access to training, tenure of employment
- Health: concentration of premature
deaths, cancer deaths, health access for different groups, low birth weight,
variations in life expectancy across groups, infant mortality levels across
groups, variations in cardiovascular disease, mental health levels
- Housing: homelessness,
availability of affordable housing, housing standards
- Social Participation: literacy and
numeracy levels, access to services, public transport, participation in
community groups, integration of public services; crime levels.
Committee Hansard 28.7.03,
pp.975-992 (Combat Poverty Agency); Submission 163, p.29 (ACOSS).
Consultative mechanisms to develop
Evidence indicated the importance of an effective consultative mechanism
with key stakeholders in the development of any anti-poverty strategy. Mission Australia
called for the development of a nationally co-ordinated Poverty Reduction and
Elimination Partnership comprising government, non-government, business and
community representatives to develop and evaluate multidisciplinary strategies
to reduce poverty.
Some groups suggested that a national summit should be convened as part
of the consultative phase. Submissions argued that a summit could help raise
the status of the issue of poverty in the public arena and emphasise the
responsibility of the community collectively to participate in finding
solutions to the problem of poverty.
The SVDP National Council indicated that there was widespread community support
for a summit:
We believe that there is a fairly big consensus out there that
something has to be done about it [poverty]. Certainly it exists amongst a
number of welfare organisations and with most of the trade union movement...It
exists with certain members of the business community. We have been taking to
The Committee questioned witnesses as to whether a summit would
degenerate more into a 'talkfest' where deeply held disagreements around the
issue of poverty would dominate to the detriment of the development of a plan
of action. The SVDP National Council suggested that it would be useful to
convene a pre-summit meeting so that this did not occur. This meeting would
formulate a set agenda for the main summit and act as a way to build consensus
among the various stakeholders – 'it is no use calling people into a summit and
then having a free-for-all...It has to be planned and carefully structured. It
also has to bring in all sides of politics'.
Other groups expressed their support for a summit. Catholic Welfare Australia
argued that a summit would be able to bring together stakeholders to discuss a
national strategy – 'but this is not seen as leading to a gabfest, but rather
simply to try to build consensus for the adoption of such a strategy'.
The Australian National Organisation of the Unemployed commented on the
effectiveness of similar arrangements overseas:
I know that these things can be very effective, because I have
seen some that are very effective. The National Economic and Social Forum in Ireland
is a fine example of how things can be brought together and things changed....You
look at Ireland, for example – when you actually pick up the people who have a
real deep vested interest in this they are not interested in the talk, they are
interested in the action. And when that influence is strong enough, for a start
that will drive the thing to become action oriented rather than talk oriented.
Some doubts were expressed as to whether a summit would be effective in
addressing the issues around poverty.
FaCS commented that if a summit were to be held 'it would be very important to
agree on what we meant by some of the concepts, because...there can be a lot of
disagreement about what is appropriate to be focusing on'.
Submissions and other evidence also argued that governments needed to
commit to a reduction in poverty over a fixed time frame. ACOSS argued that at
a minimum, governments should commit to an overall reduction in the level of
poverty by a quarter, and the level of child poverty to be halved, over a 10
year period. This would require the adoption of:
- a widely understood and accepted definition of poverty;
- a method to measure progress in the achievement of this
- the adoption of benchmarks and targets, including national, local
and group specific targets for the achievement of substantial improvements in a
range of social indicators including levels of unemployment, income adequacy,
educational attainment, health outcomes, housing affordability, Indigenous
wellbeing and access to essential community services.
National poverty reduction targets
Other welfare groups also emphasised the importance of national poverty
reduction targets. The SVDP National Council argued for the adoption of a
timeframe for a poverty alleviation strategy of 5 years and progressive
benchmarks to be achieved over that period.
Catholic Welfare Australia suggested a national commitment to reduce adult
poverty by at least 50 per cent, and child poverty by at least 75 per cent,
within a generation.
Catholic Welfare Australia noted that a targeting strategy places an important
discipline on government and 'makes it measurable and accountable about its
achievements in poverty reduction strategies against the national strategy'.
They added that:
Targets can be under the short-term model of reducing child
poverty by a certain amount within a certain period of time – two or three
years – and the shorter targets have proved quite successful in Ireland. Or
perhaps longer term targets, as apply particularly in the case of the UK, which
has claimed to eliminate child poverty within a generation.
A number of State Governments are developing benchmarks and indicators
to monitor progress in achieving their anti-poverty objectives. The Tasmanian
Government, as part of its Tasmania Together plan, which is an
integrated social, environmental and economic plan for Tasmania, has developed
a cluster of six benchmarks to focus on the immediate and long term impacts of
poverty in that State (see Table 18.1).
Table 18.1: Tasmania: Benchmarks for
The cost of food, electricity, housing, transport and health as a
percentage of income for low-income earners.
This is a measure of discretionary expenditure available to families,
taking into account both cost pressures on a basket of essential goods and
Proportion of households with income below the OECD poverty line.
Uses the OECD half
median poverty line ($415/wk in 1999-2000).
Long-term unemployed people as a % of all unemployed Tasmanians.
Best performing State
Long-term unemployment defined by ABS as those out of work for more
than 52 weeks.
Recent figures indicate a decline in Tasmania's long term
Proportion of adults who report being unable to raise $2,000 in a week
for an emergency
Baseline data from
Healthy Communities Survey
A measure of financial security/resilience and of control.
Proportion of Tasmanians who report that they cannot buy enough food
for the household.
Baseline data from
Healthy Communities Survey
Index of relative socio-economic disadvantage (rural)
2005 Maintain or improve
Index of Relative Social Disadvantage (IRSED) 974
Rural Index of Socio-Economic Advantage (RIRSEA) 1019
New data from 2001
Census available in Sept 2003
Baseline data now using two ABS indices.
On IRSED, the 974 value for the whole of Tasmania ranks
below the Australian average of 1000.
Under the alternative RIRSEA index Tasmania's rural areas score above the national average and
are ranked second after ACT.
Source: Submission 185, p.27 (Tasmanian Government).
In the European Union, social indicators are seen as important tools in
measuring anti-poverty objectives and are the basic building blocks of
anti-poverty action plans. The EC indicator framework seeks to provide
information on issues such as levels of poverty, labour market disadvantage,
poor health, poor housing, deprivation, educational levels, literacy and
numeracy and capacity to participate in society. In the United Kingdom, the
Government is developing benchmarks to monitor progress in the achievement of
its anti-poverty objectives and has established government bodies and
consultative mechanisms with the aim of developing appropriate policy
Ireland's NAPS contains 36 targets in areas such as income, employment,
education, health and housing. The strategy is now also concentrating on
particular groups at risk of poverty, such as women; children and young people;
older people; ethnic minorities; and people with disabilities and sets targets
to measure progress in achieving anti-poverty objectives in relation to these
Establishment of an anti-poverty
Evidence to the inquiry indicated the need for structures to be
established to support any anti-poverty strategies adopted. Many overseas
countries have specific structures, research programs and consultative
mechanisms concerned with poverty and social exclusion.
In Ireland a number of bodies support that country's anti-poverty
strategy. A statutory body, the Combat Poverty Agency was established in 1986.
The Agency provides policy advice to the Government on issues pertaining to
poverty; undertakes research to inform that policy advice; undertakes pilot
projects in the field; and provides public education and information. A
national Office for Social Inclusion has been established in the Department of
Social and Family Affairs. Social inclusion units have also been established in
government departments responsible for delivering the strategy, and in some
local authorities. A Social Inclusion Consultative Group has been established
which meets twice a year. It comprises senior public servants across government
departments, business, trade unions, community and voluntary sector
organisations and anti-poverty experts. A Social Inclusion Forum also meets
once a year that includes a wide range of groups, such as NGOs and local
authorities. The aim is to give feedback on the implementation of the strategy.
A Cabinet Subcommittee on Social Inclusion, chaired by the Prime Minister, has
also been established.
The United Kingdom has a Social Exclusion Unit within the Cabinet
Office, supported by research and analysis conducted through the Centre for
Economic and Social Inclusion.
Various initiatives have been undertaken at the State/Territory level in
Australia. The South Australian Government has established an independent
board that advises the Government on its Social Inclusion Initiative and
reports to the Department of the Premier and Cabinet. The SA Government noted
that this approach provides for the involvement of other stakeholders while
still being closely connected to Government.
South Australia: Social
In March 2002, the Premier
established the Government's Social Inclusion Initiative and appointed the
Social Inclusion Board with the objective of tackling some of the most pressing
social issues facing the state and by linking social and economic policy. The
Board will advise Government on new ways to achieve better outcomes for the
most disadvantaged people in the community.
Initially the Premier has asked the
Board to consider three specific references:
- Reduce the incidence of
homelessness and reduce the number of people sleeping rough by 50% during the
life of the Government;
- Support young people to stay at
school and successfully complete twelve years of education reflected by a
measurable increase in school retention rates; and
- Respond to the recommendations
made at the June 2002 Drugs Summit.
The Board advises on collaborative
action by Government and collaborative initiatives between State Government and
others sectors, and reports to the Premier on the impact of these actions.
The Board comprises community
leaders bringing together experience and expertise as well as established
linkages across non-government organisations, the business sector and the
broader community. These enable the Board to build partnerships, to work with
all spheres of government and maximise the cross sectoral use of resources.
The Social Inclusion Unit supports
the work of the Board in achieving these objectives and is located within the
Department of the Premier and Cabinet.
Submission 187, Attachment 2
Several submissions argued that an anti-poverty commission or similar
body should be established in Australia to oversee the development and
monitoring of a national anti-poverty strategy. ACOSS argued that an advisory
council should support the work of an anti-poverty commission with membership
drawn from Commonwealth, State and local governments, business and trade unions,
community service agencies and key experts. The commission would report
regularly to Parliament on progress against the strategy. ACOSS suggested that
policy units within the Commonwealth Government and line departments, both
Commonwealth and State, should also be established to coordinate government
activity to address poverty, and assess the impact of programs and policies on
Similar structures were also advocated by other groups. Catholic Welfare
Australia proposed the establishment of a statutory authority – the
Commission for Poverty Reduction. The proposed commission would:
- develop a range of indicators to measure poverty and deprivation;
report to the Parliament on performance against poverty reduction
- undertake inquiries into specific issues relevant to poverty
- undertake research into the causes and effects of poverty in Australia.
Catholic Welfare Australia proposed that full and part-time
representatives would be appointed to the commission with representation from
policy experts in academia, social policy research bodies, social welfare
agencies, and the business community. It was envisaged that the commission
would have similar powers to the Productivity Commission in conducting
Catholic Welfare Australia suggested that the body needed to be independent and
pointed to the success of the Productivity Commission in this regard – 'its
statutory independence, its capacity to conduct inquiries and to measure
effects of assistance have proved a very powerful influence in building success
for change in this country. We would see that their emphasis could perhaps be
balanced by a similar commission whose prime focus was in considerations of
The Victorian Government suggested that an expansion of the
responsibilities of the Productivity Commission – which could be renamed the
Productivity and Equity Commission – would provide a possible means to
implement an anti-poverty strategy. The Victorian Government noted that the
Productivity Commission has initiated important improvements in the area of
micro-economic reform – 'we believe there is potential to drive changes in
equity and social justice in Australia through comparable processes'.
Catholic Welfare Australia, however, while noting that the Productivity
Commission has been a good example of consensus building for social change in
the case of micro-economic reform argued that the Commission would not be a 'suitable
advocate' for the most disadvantaged because of its primary emphasis on
economic efficiency rather than equity considerations.
Other options suggested included the establishment of an independent
board. The South Australian Government noted that an independent board that
reports to the Premier and Cabinet was established as part of that State's
social inclusion initiative. The Government noted that this arrangement
provides greater scope for the engagement of other stakeholders while still
being closely connected to Government compared with COAG arrangements.
The Committee believes that there is an urgent need for a comprehensive
national approach to the alleviation of poverty in Australia. The lack of clear
national objectives to reduce poverty and social exclusion limits the ability
of governments to develop and implement appropriate policies in this area.
A national anti-poverty strategy needs to involve key policy areas
including employment, health, education, income support, housing and other
relevant areas. Targets related to poverty alleviation need to be set in these
areas as part of a whole of government strategy to fight poverty. The
development and use of comprehensive anti-poverty targets has assisted the
Irish and United Kingdom Governments to measure their progress in addressing
inequality and disadvantage.
The strategy needs to be developed in close consultation with key
stakeholders including State governments, the welfare sector, unions, the
business community and key experts in the field of poverty. To this end, the
Committee believes that the broad parameters of an anti-poverty strategy should
be developed over a 12-month period and include an anti-poverty summit. The
Committee envisages that the consultative phase would enable consensus building
and would establish key goals and broad priorities for an anti-poverty
The Committee further considers that a statutory authority or unit
reporting directly to the Prime Minister should be established to develop in
greater detail the anti-poverty framework agreed to during the consultative phase,
and to provide a mechanism to implement and monitor the anti-poverty strategy
18.46 That a
comprehensive anti-poverty strategy be developed at the national level and that
- an initial
summit of Commonwealth, State and local governments, the welfare sector,
unions, the business sector, community groups, income support customers and
relevant experts in the field to be held to highlight the importance of the
issue and agree on a timetable for action;
- a commitment
to achieve a whole of government approach. That is, coordinated action across
policy areas such as employment, health, education, income support, community
services, housing and other relevant areas to reduce poverty and poverty of opportunity;
- not longer
than a 12-month period of consultation.
18.47 That a statutory
authority or unit reporting directly to the Prime Minister be established with
responsibility for developing, implementing and monitoring a national
anti-poverty strategy and that this entity:
- establish benchmarks and targets to measure progress against a
series of anti-poverty objectives;
- report regularly to the Parliament on progress against the
- undertake or
commission research into a range of poverty-reduction measures.
Structural changes aimed at reducing poverty
Evidence to the inquiry indicated that the development and
implementation of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy will require structural
changes to address the underlying causes of poverty in Australia. This will
require a re-ordering of the social and economic priorities in this county.
Catholic Welfare Australia stated that 'we need to create a social and economic
environment that proofs the nation against poverty, reducing the risk of
economic disadvantage becoming socially entrenched'.
The SVDP National Council stated that over the last two decades there
has been a move away from a national commitment to egalitarianism:
We have moved from our egalitarian nation based on European
social values of accepting that society is designed for the common good and
that government has a responsibility of ensuring that everyone contributes to,
and benefits from, that common good to a nation that is increasingly focused on
the pursuit of the individual and the belief in the free market to solve all
our problems. The free market was never designed as a social tool. If we are to
accept this move [away from egalitarianism]...Australians should be asked: do you
want a nation with a health system which is affordable only to the
wealthy?...Are you prepared to put up with the level of homelessness and
destitution which up until now has been unacceptable in this country? Are you
prepared to put up with the quality of an education system dependent upon how
wealthy you are?
Catholic Welfare Australia argued that as a nation we can choose the
level of poverty that exists.
We can choose to make poverty reduction a key priority for
policy reform. But we have not chosen to do this. The national commitment to
the fight against poverty in Australia is tepid. This is partly because current
social values insufficiently reflect a sense of solidarity for those in need.
But it is also a failure of policy. Only governments have the fiscal and legislative
means to approach a social problem so complex, so deeply connected to the
institutional structures of our society.
Significant structural changes are required to address the economic and
social determinants of poverty in Australia. Submissions emphasised that the
policy framework to address unemployment, for instance, needs to focus both on
achieving the maximum sustainable rate of economic growth, and ensuring that
economic growth benefits all sections of the community, including the most vulnerable.
Inadequate levels of education and skills also contribute to poverty.
The people most at risk of joblessness – especially long-term joblessness –
throughout their working lives are those with limited education, vocational
skills and a limited history of secure employment. Submissions emphasised that
people who have not had access to appropriate education and training
opportunities are finding it increasingly difficult to actively shape their own
social and economic futures. ACOSS noted that:
Improving education and training for people most at risk of
joblessness, and those already unemployed long-term, is a critical element of
any anti-poverty strategy. This approach will not be effective, however, in the
absence of strong growth in employment. Moreover, education, employment and
training policies require a much more substantial investment, and a revamp of
their design, to overcome deeply entrenched labour market disadvantage.
Changes in family formation especially being single and supporting
dependent children contribute to the risk of poverty particularly when combined
with other factors such as joblessness. Submissions emphasised that innovative
initiatives across a range of policy areas are required to address this issue.
Evidence to the Committee indicated that, while requiring some
fundamental policy changes, affluent countries like Australia have the economic
capacity to abolish poverty. The SVDP National Council argued that the total
amount of additional funding required to abolish poverty in Australia is about
2 per cent of GDP or $12 billion per annum. This could be implemented over
a number of years to lessen its overall impact. The Society estimated that the
proposal would ultimately involve the wealthiest 20 per cent of Australians
(which control over 60 per cent of the wealth) surrendering, over time, 2-3 per
cent of that wealth to the community as a whole.
The SVDP Society argued that these changes could be funded by a
combination of new revenue sources and re-ordering priorities within existing
Government programs. New revenue sources suggested by the Society would include
the removal of tax concessions on trusts; limitations on the tax concessions
granted to wealthy individuals and companies; and higher marginal tax rates on
very high income earners and companies. The Society suggesting that re-ordering
of Government funding priorities could include means testing the private health
insurance rebate; means testing other payments, including the baby bonus;
re-ordering of education grant priorities to ensure that the poorest schools
receive the bulk of the funding; and reviewing other government subsidy
programs with the aim of reducing funding in certain areas and extending
funding to other areas, especially where the need is greatest.
Professor Saunders also argued that the financial cost of abolishing
poverty represents only a small fraction of Australia's national income or GDP
(estimated at less than 2.4 per cent of GDP) – 'we can thus pay to remove all
Australians from poverty if we want to: the fact that we don't do so is a
matter of choice, not affordability'.
Submissions noted that comprehensive policies to reduce poverty need to
consider not only their fiscal costs, but also their potential longer term
benefits to the nation. Catholic Welfare Australia noted that a systematic
approach to reducing unemployment and moving people from welfare to work will
increase participation in the labour market. This will lead to higher GDP per
capita. This strategy, as well as improving the lives of those currently
unemployed, will also improve the wellbeing of all Australians by improving
social cohesiveness. Thus an effective national anti-poverty strategy has both
direct and indirect benefits for the nation as a whole.
Social and economic sustainability
In addition to the need for structural changes, evidence to the inquiry
indicated the need for a new integrated policy framework where a range of
objectives, including issues of equity and disadvantage are incorporated into
government policy rather than, as has largely occurred in the past, a
concentration on strictly economic objectives. It has been argued that
governments should commit to conjoint economic, social, cultural and
environmental policies where economic, social, cultural and environmental
objectives are all given equal attention.
Evidence called for the development of a fairer and more sustainable
society where there is a more equal distribution of the benefits of economic
growth. One study noted that a continuing problem in Australia has been the
preoccupation of public policy with the economy, with social and environmental
issues relegated to secondary concerns.
Another study noted that the notion of the public interest to be served by
government has altered – it is now understood by many Western governments as
that interest which maximises the rate of economic growth. This interpretation
of the public interest does not give priority to the distribution of the
benefits of such growth to those who make up the society.
Catholic Welfare Australia stated that there can be a reordering
of priorities – 'we can choose to focus first on those in greatest need and
ensure their interests receive the most weight in the calculus of economic and
social policy. We can choose to make poverty reduction a key priority for
Evidence indicated that economic policy should not be an end in itself
but a means – the basic test of the success of any economy should be the
well-being of its people. One study noted that:
If growth does not provide properly for the well-being of all
Australians, if it does not contribute to the solution of existing social,
cultural and environmental problems, if it increases disadvantage, produces new
inequities, and further despoils the environment, then it not only causes pain
and hardship to those affected but also undermines the fabric of the society
and the future potential of the economy.
Responses to poverty and inequality in Australia must recognise the
interconnectedness of all aspects of government policy, including taxation,
welfare, community services, and business policy.
Governments must recognise the role played by other social and economic
policies and institutions in affecting, and in some cases, perpetuating
disadvantage in society. For instance, while welfare policy that directs income
support to social security recipients may have a significant positive effect of
poverty levels, other public policies may increase inequalities. For instance,
Governments over several decades have paid limited attention to the severe
equity effects of economic policies that have allowed unemployment to rise
substantially during and after recessions. Moreover, funding cuts have
substantially withdrawn resources from essential human services. As one study
A major challenge for policy is to change the underlying
conditions that give rise to growth in poverty and inequality and the exclusion
of groups...from the benefits of general improvements in community living
standards. Current approaches of economic and social policy interpret the role
of government and the "public interest" as purely the maximisation of
economic growth. Both poverty and inequality continue to grow, despite apparent
sustained economic success. These policies must be substantially rethought and
new directions found to place equity and the welfare of all people at the heart
of core national values.
A more socially and economically sustainable community requires services
to be available, affordable, inclusive and timely. Services also need to be
delivered within a framework of long-term strategies to address the underlying
issues of disadvantage in order to build a more equitable country.
Short term economic-based methods of determining outcomes and measuring
progress are not adequate. VCOSS argued that there is a need for integrated
long-term thinking and planning, which recognises the interdependence between
social, environmental and economic challenges facing the community.
Internationally, many governments are recognising the importance of innovation
and investment in social, environmental and economic capital; linking economic
growth with improving services and reducing inequities; sustainable resource
use; and effectively engaging with stakeholders in promoting new initiatives.
Submissions argued that the key to ensuring a sustainable future for all
Australians is to integrate a sustainability approach across all government
functions. VCOSS noted that building such a framework will require coherent
integration of policies across the economic, social and environmental spheres,
significant participation of the community in policy-making and implementation,
and a strong political commitment to a long-term perspective.
Evidence to the inquiry overwhelmingly indicated the need for a comprehensive,
national approach to poverty alleviation in this country. Poverty and
inequality are becoming entrenched in Australia – too many Australians have
been left behind despite a period of sustained economic growth.
The Committee believes that a national strategy needs to be developed in
close consultation with key stakeholders including the welfare sector, unions,
State governments and the business community. The Committee believes that there
is genuine and widespread community support to enable a consensus to be built
around the key goals and broad priorities that are needed for such a strategy.
The Committee believes that an anti-poverty summit should be held involving all
key groups to further this consensus building process.
An anti-poverty strategy needs to involve key policy areas including
employment, health, education, income support, housing and other relevant
areas. Targets related to poverty alleviation need to be set in these areas as
part of a whole of government strategy to fight poverty. As a nation we must be
prepared to measure our progress in the policy areas that are the drivers of
both opportunity and poverty. The development and use of comprehensive
anti-poverty targets has assisted the Irish and United Kingdom Governments to measure
their progress in tackling poverty and disadvantage.
The Committee has recommended that a statutory authority or unit
reporting directly to the Prime Minister should be established to develop in
greater detail the anti-poverty framework agreed to during the consultative
phase, and to provide a mechanism to implement and monitor the anti-poverty
strategy adopted. It would be the task of this body to establish benchmarks to
measure progress against a series of anti-poverty objectives.
The Committee believes that we need to create a social and economic
environment that proofs the nation against poverty, reducing the risk of
economic disadvantage becoming socially entrenched. The Committee also
considers that there is a need for a new integrated policy framework where a
range of objectives including issues of equity are given equal weight in the
formulation of government policy.
We as a nation can choose the level of poverty that exists in this
country. We can structure our policies and national strategies to fight the war
against poverty. To fail to do this is to fail the poor and the disadvantaged
in our community and to impoverish ourselves as a nation.
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page