Next week, October 12th marks the start of national Anti-Poverty Week. But are we listening when it comes to local poverty?

Poverty, hunger and disadvantage are often relegated to other people, and other places. We are all familiar with media representations focusing those living in slums, or those suffering from famine in other countries. Without doubt, these are very real and concerning experiences, and demand close attention and action.

But what of the everyday poverty experienced by those around us? Are these stories being told?

While Australia is undeniably well off by most comparisons, relegating issues of disadvantage elsewhere can mask the daily struggle facing many Australians today.

According to research carried out by the OECD (2014), poverty is on the rise in Australia. The research posits that 14.4% of the population is struggling to make ends meet, surpassing the OECD average of 11.3%.

Those most at risk of poverty include:
The unemployed
Children (especially in single parent families)
Singles over 65
People reliant on social security payments
The “working poor
(ACOSS 2012)

Due to fewer employment opportunities, regional Australia has been found to experience higher rates of poverty. However, the high cost of housing in major cities such as Sydney and Perth mean a broader range of people struggle to make ends meet.

If we look closely, many of those around us may be experiencing poverty, and struggling to put healthy food on the table. This struggle might be driven by financial difficulties, but also by overall deprivation, and experiences of social exclusion.triangle

Poverty is a significant upstream factor contributing to the experience of food insecurity and hunger in Australia. When people must split their income amongst housing, bills, education, clothing, transport, food, and other necessities, it can become difficult to put healthy, nutritionally adequate food on the table. Often people skip meals, reduce the variety of purchased food groups, and turn to cheaply available, nutrient poor foods. The long-term outcomes often result in poorer health outcomes, with obesity, diabetes and heart disease levels increasing.

With food such a central part of our lives, and so essential for our wellbeing, poverty and food insecurity can contribute to experiences of social exclusion. This is particularly significant for children, whose early life experiences are linked to lifelong wellbeing outcomes.

In Australia 17% of children live in poverty, and 15% live in jobless families (ARACY 2013). The Child Social Exclusion (CSE) index measures a range factors to determine levels of child exclusion in Australia, including socioeconomic, housing, education, connectedness and health service factors. In Australia, 32.1% of children are found to be at risk of social exclusion, with the distribution across the states as below:

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Social exclusion can take many forms. One example might be peer exclusion when children are unable to meet the social norm of bringing their own lunch to school. In response to these issues, breakfast club programs have been established in many schools for children who go to school without breakfast. But there is always more that can be done.

Statistics help paint a picture of who is struggling to get by, and where. However, the personal stories often go untold. The numbers confirm Australians in every state are experiencing poverty, but we need to listen to the local stories to understand the lived experience of food insecurity, disadvantage and social exclusion.

The issues are not very far away, or facing very different people. They are experienced in every Australian state, in many Australian suburbs, and by people from many walks of life. We need greater, multi-sector leadership to tackle poverty upstream in order to deal with the downstream challenges of poor health, food insecurity, and hunger.

 Lila Kennelly

A range of solutions to local food insecurity will be explored at the Putting Food on the Table conference next week, October 13-14. Registrations can still be made here.

Reports cited:

Australian Council of Social Services, Poverty in Australia, 2012.

Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth, Report Card: The wellbeing of young Australians, 2013.

NSW Parliamentary Research Service, Child disadvantage in NSW: recent findings, 2014.

OECD Social Indicators, Society at a glance, 2014.


Photo credit: Veronique Moseley-Larbordus