27 October 2021

Take some time this week to consider the many Canberrans living in poverty

| Karyn Starmer
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Chalk drawing of a house on cement

Estimates put the ratio of Canberrans living in poverty at one in nine, including 9000 children. Photo: File.

Largely well educated and earning above the median income, most Canberrans are justifiably proud of their city. But hiding behind the averages, an estimated 38,000 Canberrans are living below the poverty line.

Think about that for a moment.

For every nine people you see on the street today, one is living below the poverty line. That’s $457 a week for a single adult living alone, or $960 a week for a couple with two children.

Could you pay your rent or mortgage, bills and groceries on that money? And what about transport?

Anti-Poverty Week will be held across Australia from 17-23 October, and Canberrans are being asked to reflect on and discuss the poverty and disadvantage on our doorstep, and what we can do to make a change.

ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) CEO and co-chair of Anti-Poverty Week, Dr Emma Campbell, says Anti-Poverty Week is calling on our governments to unlock poverty for millions of Australians by raising income support above the poverty line and investing in social housing.

“I think most Canberrans care, but may not realise just how many people are struggling,” she said. “So this week we are asking Canberrans to take some time to reflect on the disadvantages of people living in our own community.”

Living in poverty is like living in permanent lockdown, and not having enough money to cover necessities, including housing, which restricts daily life. The ability to do important things is taken away from you. Decisions that affect your life are made without your input, you are reliant on the kindness of others, and it is difficult to see what you can do to change the situation.

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During the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns, around three million Australians – one million of them children – were protected from poverty when the Federal Government doubled working age payments. But payments have since been reduced and are now as low as $44 for JobSeeker and $36 for Youth Allowance per day – well below the poverty line.

And the poorest adults and children living under pandemic lockdowns in 2021 are being excluded from the COVID-19 Disaster Payment.

Dr Emma Campbell

ACT Council of Social Service CEO and co-chair of Anti-Poverty Week, Dr Emma Campbell. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Anti-Poverty Week is focused on two themes: a ‘Raise the Rate for Good’ campaign, which is lobbying to permanently raise the rate of income support, and the ‘Everybody’s Home’ campaign, focusing on solutions to fix Australia’s housing system.

“Raising the rate of income support should not be political – it should be about basic fairness,” said Dr Campbell.

“If people fall on hard times, for whatever reason, you should be able to get some support that doesn’t make you fall below the poverty line.

“Those concerned that raising the rate of support is a disincentive to get off support should know there is evidence showing that those who are given a decent level of income support have more success getting back into the workforce.

“With a decent level of support, people can look after themselves and prepare themselves for that next opportunity to work.

“It’s not just the unemployed and students we are talking about here – this includes people on disability support and the age pension. Many older people, who did not have enough super and are living on the age pension, are now finding themselves living in poverty with no housing security after contributing all their working lives.

“Canberra is the most expensive capital city to rent in, and the ACT has Australia’s highest rate of rental stress among low-income households.”

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Activities for 2021 ACT Anti-Poverty Week include an invitation to watch an interview between ACT Anti-Poverty Week ambassador and Region Media group editor Genevieve Jacobs, and social researcher Hugh Mackay, and join online conversations about supporting the community.

There is also the Anti-Poverty Week Youth Art Competition, where you can vote for your favourite art piece from Monday, 18 October.

The National Carillon and Telstra Tower at Black Mountain will be lit up blue on Thursday, 21 October, and the Carillion again on Friday, 22 October, in line with lighting up other monuments across Australia to symbolise a brighter future of hope, particularly for children living in poverty.

The 2021 ACT Anti-Poverty Week is convened by co-chairs Jenny Kitchin, CEO Woden Community Service, and Dr Emma Campbell, CEO ACT Council of Social Service. It is supported by an executive committee with representatives from Canberra Community Law; YWCA Canberra; Relationships Australia Canberra & Region; St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra and Goulburn; Woden Community Service and ACTCOSS.

This year, they are partnering with Hands Across Canberra to encourage donations to ACT community organisations.

For a full list of events and more information and resources, visit Anti-Poverty Week. For information on events in other jurisdictions and the national campaign, visit the national website.

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Capital Retro7:02 pm 17 Oct 21

Headlining another article on this blog:

“Afghan refugees arrive in Canberra to find a citywide network of support”

I find that strangely incongruent with the plight of many Canberrans living in poverty.

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