OPINION

There is too much poverty in our rich country

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A stronger social security safety net is long overdue

Today there are more than 3 million people, including 739,000 children, living in poverty in Australia. This is one in eight adults and nearly one in five children. In a wealthy country such as our own, this is an unacceptable situation.

The majority of people living in poverty receive a social security payment, such as Newstart, Youth Allowance or a family payment.

Our social security payments are so low that they trap people in poverty - it's incredibly difficult to get a job when you're worrying about how to put food on the table or to make sure you have a roof over your head.

poverty

The rate of Newstart has not increased in real terms in 24 years, while the cost of the basics of life have gone up.

The stories of people struggling to get by on Newstart are harrowing.

Ellen, who is in her 60s and cares for two children, shared her story. "I eat one meal a day so the kids can eat. My sweet girl says I should eat more. I was a nurse for 27 years. All my savings have gone. I'm in so much debt. I try my best but feel so ashamed."

The single most immediate policy that would reduce poverty in Australia overnight is to lift the rate of Newstart and Youth Allowance by a minimum of $75 a week.

There is broad support for doing so, including from the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions, leading economists and former prime minister John Howard.

Many of us are just a job loss or a relationship breakdown away from relying on our safety net and almost 70% of the Australian community believes Newstart should be increased.

We can afford a decent social security safety net in Australia, including by ensuring that wealth and profits are taxed fairly.

Politicians must heed the calls from right across the community on the need for a decent social security safety net.

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Dr Cassandra Goldie is CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service. She is Adjunct Professor with the Law Faculty at UNSW. She has a PhD from UNSW and a Masters of Law from University College London, and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. She serves on the Advisory Committee for the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, the UNSW Law Advisory Committee, the Australian Climate Roundtable, and the Management Committee of the International Council of Social Welfare.
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