This Anti-Poverty Week we’re starting early, focusing on keeping payments above the poverty line and supporting the Everybody’s Home campaign.
2020 has been like no other including for those of us involved with Anti-Poverty Week. Just like the distillery in Sydney which switched from making gin to hand sanitiser, we’ve needed to rethink how we can best achieve our purpose to support Australians understand poverty and take action collectively to end it.
Before the bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic struck there were already 3.2 million Australians living in poverty. Many were relying on shockingly low income support payments that were effectively trapping them in poverty. The campaign to increase these payments had the support of a diverse number of Australians from business groups to the Country Women’s Association and in 2019 Anti-Poverty Week joined in as the evidence showed us an increase was the most effective solution to poverty in Australia. Despite this overwhelming evidence and strong support from across the community, we weren’t making any progress in convincing the Federal Government.
Fortunately, one of the first measures it took in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was to introduce a $550 per fortnight Coronavirus Supplement, effectively doubling the JobSeeker unemployment payment and extending the Supplement to nine other payments. This was a huge relief as we knew there would be untold hardship and poverty if people were forced to live on $40 a day given the inevitable recession ensuing from the COVID-19 shutdown of the economy.
But there was a catch – the increase was time-limited and due to end in late September. It became obvious we could not wait until Anti-Poverty Week in October but needed to start work immediately to help convince the Federal Government to either extend it or permanently increase payments. That’s why we’ve been supporting the Raise the Rate for Good campaign. As part of that we’ve highlighted the importance of the payment in protecting children from poverty especially now we estimate there are more than one million with a parent receiving the Supplement.
I don’t think supporting the poorest people in our society should ever be seen as a bad thing. And to use it as some kind of punishment – it will somehow incentivise you to go get work if you’re not being paid enough to live? How does that ever work? I think it’s frankly cruel to expect people to survive well below the poverty line.
This was Science and Tech Editor at NITV Rae Johnston answering my question on ABC’s Q and A in late May which asked the panel if they agreed that the smart and right decision would be to permanently increase unemployment payments and payments for students so they were above the poverty line. Rae brought up her son while living on sole parent payments. She spoke about how hard it was trying to get by: “By the time I paid for my rent, my bills, my electricity, food in the fridge and enough petrol left in the car to get back to the shops next fortnight, I had $5 left over for my son and I. And that was all I if anything happened, if there were any emergencies, like if I needed baby Panadol, $5!”
I’m hoping we’ve made some progress on this by the time you’re reading this article.
In 2020 we also want to focus on that other great driver of poverty – unaffordable housing. To this end we are partnering with the Everybody’s Home campaign, starting from Homelessness Week (3-8 August) and running through to the end of Anti-Poverty Week which is 11-17 October this year. We’ve also decided that we won’t be holding or encouraging physical face-to-face events during the week, given the risks associated with COVID-19. We believe there will be many creative ways we can achieve our purpose especially with such great partners as the St Vincent de Paul Society. We very much appreciate the long-standing commitment and involvement of many from the Society including the 2020 sponsorship from your national office as well as Barnie Van Wyk and Louise Miller-Frost stepping up to be honorary Co-Chairs in the ACT and South Australia respectively.
This pandemic shows us that the health of Australians is our number one priority. Yet we know that too often, being sick can make your poor and being poor makes you sick. The pandemic also shows us we can solve tough problems if we listen to the evidence and work together for the common good. The PM has proudly stated that the National Cabinet has been guided by “evidence and outstanding expert advice” to attain the welcome low rates of infection and fatalities in Australia to date. We need to keep doing this as we design and implement policies to help people during the crisis and when we come out the other side if we want to build a healthy and prosperous future for all.
♦ Toni Wren is the Executive Director of Anti-Poverty Week.