19 October 2021

Canberra's hidden poor have been hit hard by the pandemic

| Jenny Kitchin
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Jenny Kitchin

Jenny Kitchin, CEO of Woden Community Service, reflects on the vital goal of a poverty-free society. Photo: File.

Anti-Poverty Week (APW) reminds us of the tough times people across our community have faced during 2020/21.

In particular, the pandemic has exacerbated and highlighted the underbelly of disadvantage that many Canberrans experience. In one of Australia’s most affluent cities, as a result of COVID-19, the often ‘hidden’ poverty has been highlighted for all to see.

Canberrans living in poverty struggle with a high cost of living and unaffordable house prices. One of the key issues faced by people on low incomes has been the lack of affordable housing. As rents rise and access to homeownership declines, we see a growing number of people trying desperately to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads.

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At Woden Community Service (WCS), we have seen the impacts of increased poverty across many of our services. More and more people are coming forward to access emergency food relief at our Little Pantry, particularly families with children.

In our youth programs, we see an increasing number of young people having to couch surf or find other options if they cannot live at home.

Our centralised housing intake service, OneLink, continues to record high levels of people requiring housing while our Supported Tenancy Service is seeing an increasing number of people in private rental unable to maintain their tenancies.

For this reason, we welcomed commitments from the ACT Government, including in the recent ACT Budget, to increase public and social housing as a response to the ongoing housing crisis.

Sadly, COVID-19 plunged many small business owners into financial difficulty despite government support. Over the past year, we have seen people approach WCS for assistance who would not have done this before. These experiences, and the difficulties faced by many of their employees, have highlighted issues of poverty to more people in the business and corporate sectors and shone a light on how easy it is to find yourself falling into hardship.

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Anti-Poverty Week is traditionally promoted and represented by people in the community sector who work daily with those impacted by poverty.

It has often been difficult at a local and national level to engage the business and corporate sectors in the cause of alleviating poverty.

The impact of the pandemic may well have changed this.

For example, during COVID-19, the Australian Retailers Association, the Australian Industry Group and the Business Council of Australia all called for an increase in federal income support.

At the launch of 2021 APW in the ACT, it was great to have at the table not only community sector leaders but also business leaders.

Graham Catt from the Canberra Business Chamber and Adina Cirson from the ACT Property Council joined us to promote the role of businesses and community agencies working together against poverty.

Another highlight of the week is the conversation with our APW Champion Genevieve Jacobs, a long-standing Canberra advocate for social justice, and Hugh Mackay, the renowned social commentator. I would urge you to watch this.

All of us have a role to play in fighting poverty. Anti-Poverty Week is a chance to reflect on what you can do now and in the weeks and months to come, as we all work together to recover from the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. I encourage you to go to the APW webpage and see how you can play a role.

Jenny Kitchin is the CEO of Woden Community Services and the co-chair of Anti-Poverty Week, Canberra, along with ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell. For more information about ACT Anti-Poverty Week activities, visit the ACT page.

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