The Guardian December 12, 2001


Sharp rise in poverty

by Andrew Jackson

Despite a decade of reasonable economic growth, a major new report has 
found the number of Australians living in poverty during the '90s 
increased, with the sharpest rise occurring during the first five years of 
Howard Government. Over 2.4 million Australians now live below the 
breadline, a figure expected to increase this year with rising unemployment 
and continued welfare cutbacks.

John Howard claims that he won the election because the "aspirational" 
(formerly known as "working class") families in regions such as Western 
Sydney were enjoying greater prosperity due to his financial management and 
economic growth.

The report Financial Disadvantage in Australia 1990  2000: The 
persistence of poverty in a decade of growth, paints a starkly 
different picture of family life in Australia:

* 14.9 per cent of our children and 12.3 per cent of our adults live in 
poverty;

* the rate of child poverty declined during the Keating years, but rose 
sharply under Howard in the second half of the 1990s;

* sole parents  an increasing demographic in our society  remain the 
group most at risk of being in poverty;

* the rate of poverty among couples with children rose from 11.1 percent to 
12.2 per cent;

* the rate of poverty for single people rose to 20 per cent;

* and the percentage of families dependent upon government cash benefits 
who live in poverty rose from 46 to 58 per cent.

(Poverty is defined as where a family with two children is living on less 
than half the Australian average income  $416 in the year 2000.)

Andrew McCallum, President of the Australian Council of Social Services 
(ACOSS) said the findings were consistent with statistics showing a sharp 
increase in people seeking assistance from community agencies  over 2.3 
million people were given assistance in the first six months of 2001, a 
further 250,000 had to be turned away.

Mr McCallum said the report demonstrated that: "the significant gains made 
to lift children out of poverty in the mid-'90s had all but been eroded by 
the end of the decade. 

"This clearly points to the intergenerational nature of disadvantage, 
especially given the high numbers of families where neither parent is in 
work."

The Howard Government has no intention of tackling poverty in Australia  
issues such as unemployment, housing, family welfare and job security 
barely rated a mention during his election campaign.

Instead, he promised "more of the same" during his next term  continuing 
with policies clearly shown to be fuelling the crisis.

Welfare groups have long called for measures to ease the crisis: easier 
access to welfare benefits; abolishing the system of harsh financial 
penalties for welfare breaches; making all essential services GST-free; 
better access to education for children from disadvantaged groups; and 
expanding the public housing program.

However, while these measures provide "relief", the real cause of poverty 
must be addressed.

Both major parties have long abandoned the goal of "full employment", and 
with it abandoned the 700,000 Australians who currently languish in the 
dole queue.

Instead, they use the unemployed as ballast to keep the capitalist system 
afloat  onloading and offloading them in and out of the workforce as 
market forces dictate.

Strong industrial relations laws must be introduced to prevent companies 
using mass retrenchments to increase profits.

Telstra, and all other privatised essential services must be returned to 
public ownership. State-owned enterprises must be set up in key industries 
 banking, housing, transportation and manufacturing  as major players 
in the economy, employing the majority of workers at a living wage.

An exploited underclass is an essential feature of capitalism. Only 
socialism  where the rights and interests of the working class are 
paramount  can eliminate poverty and provide economic and social 
equality.

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