The end of the year inevitably leads to reflection - what have we done, what have we achieved? It’s been a big year for many of us, including the Anglicare Australia office. Amongst other things in refreshing our strategic plan we reaffirmed our commitment as a network to influence social and economic policy across Australia with a strong prophetic voice; informed by research and the practical experience of the network; and called to speak with and for those most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
I am proud and honoured to serve this goal and its clarity about the purpose and its deference to evidence and experience of the network combining in recognising the expertise of the people that use our network in their own lives. This is what gives the national Anglicare Australia office energy and purpose.
I’ve had cause of the last few months to reflect also about not only the nature and shape of poverty in Australia but the social construct and context that allows it to occur. The precarious nature of housing and income for many people is deeply concerning as more people seem to be finding this their reality.
It strikes me that as a society we are asking the individual to take on more and more of the risk away from society. The nature of looking for work when you are experiencing barriers to accessing the workforce is explored in the Jobs Availability Snapshot which we publish each October. This tool shows us that there are more disadvantaged job seekers than there are entry level jobs. It also shows us that those entry level jobs are diminishing, and that the average time one of these job seekers spends on Newstart is five years. This matters deeply when the rhetoric is that people should just get a job, and it points to structural causes for poverty rather than the individual being to blame.
The emergence of the gig economy, short hour contracts, and freelance work not only shifts the risk but also will have profound impacts for decades ahead as people retire with little or no superannuation.
We also see that the monetary risk of business falls squarely on the shoulders of the individual - there has been no real increase to Newstart since 1994, turning the individual caught up in unemployment into the casualty.
Housing too is becoming more precarious for many. All the data show that the more insecure types of housing tenure are increasing; more people than ever before are in the private rental market and they are there for longer coping with unaffordable rents and insecure rental agreements. Once again the Rental Affordability Snapshot uncovered miniscule numbers of affordable properties for those on low incomes. It really is time that government policy stopped regarding the private rental market as a method of wealth production and start factoring the provision of housing.
It is of interest and concern that we as Australians allow this situation. With the all the moves from the government seeming to blame those on low incomes it is little wonder that the average person who doesn’t have time or inclination to look beyond the headlines will form poor views of those people. Much of the policy attention on welfare policy seems to be trying to tell a particular story. For example, drug testing for those on Newstart would seem to tell us that drugs is the major reason why people are unemployed as opposed to the fact that our Jobs Availability Snapshot shows that at least four people are competing for each job in their skill level. Social Welfare Debt Recovery was heralded as a budget measure yet we believe abandoned quietly later in the year when it became apparent that the debt was not there to be recovered. The story however tells people that those on welfare are cheats and avoids the reality that welfare payments are simply inadequate.
Of course the end of the year is a good time to reflect, it is also a time to look forward and we do so at Anglicare Australia with a new optimism fuelled by our last piece of research for 2018 which we will excitedly carry into 2019.
A national survey found that Australians on the whole do feel that no one should live in poverty, that the causes of poverty as not those of the individual’s making and reject the notion that those on government benefits should live in poverty.
This gives me hope that it is the politicians of all sides that believe keeping government benefits low will force people into work, that blaming the individual will deflect attention from inadequate policy and leadership; it is they that are out of step.