Mahatma Gandhi famously said that a society can be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable.
While it follows from this maxim that lifting people out of poverty should be a priority, the reality is that governments rarely shine a light on this issue.
The issues are complex, and political life cycles often result in short term policy settings and programs which don’t give real and lasting solutions.
So we applaud the SA Parliament which is currently examining the extent of poverty in South Australia.
This week the Legislative Council Select Committee on Poverty in SA is hearing evidence from the SA Council of Social Service and others.
In preparation we have developed a substantial piece of research as our submission.
SACOSS has calculated a brand new poverty line using ABS data specific to SA.
Most other estimates use national data to draw an approximate poverty line for SA, so ours is a conservative, but arguably more accurate measure.
The line sits at just $408 per week for a one-person household.
Using this new measure 60,660 households in SA are somehow surviving on incomes below this poverty line.
This represents 9 per cent of all SA households and translates to nearly 132,000 individuals, including 22,000 children.
Alarmingly, there is twice the rate of poverty in regional SA: a rate of nearly 15 per cent compared to 7 per cent in greater Adelaide.
Our research shows that a significant proportion of people living below the poverty line have lost jobs and/or simply can’t find enough hours of work, and their major income source is Newstart.
This payment currently sits $135 below the SA poverty line.
It’s hard to believe but the Newstart payment and associated base allowances have not gone up in 24 years.
During the past twenty years the value of Newstart has declined from 24 per cent of the average SA wage in 1998, to the equivalent of just 19 per cent of the average SA wage in 2018. The best and most direct way to reduce poverty nationwide would be to raise the rate of Newstart and other base payments by at least $75 per week, and we are urging the Legislative Council Select Committee to get behind this call in their report.
Of course poverty is about more than just income.
The SACOSS submission also makes recommendations in other areas including housing, energy, water, telecommunications and justice.
Helping out those children and adults doing it tough is what is most important. I encourage all South Australians to get on board.
Published in the Advertiser 24 Aug 2018