Just think: one in six Australian children lives in income poverty.
In Anti-Poverty Week, that means that around 19,000 of our 114,000 young Tasmanians are living in income poverty.
In Tasmania, we have a strategy to improve the wellbeing of our children and young people. This is powerful and a terrific step forward for all of us, especially our children.
However, our efforts to improve children’s wellbeing are hampered by the fact 19,000 children do not have access to the material basics.
Children living in poverty experience its effects directly – through a lack of access to food, clothing, housing, education, and healthcare.
Poverty impacts children in many other ways, and the work of Prof Sharon Bessell and her team at the Australian National University helps us to understand this better.
Poverty not only results in material deprivation – food, clothes, housing – but also in deprivation of opportunity and deprivation of relationships.
For children, reduced opportunities can take the form of not going to the doctor, because it’s too expensive to run a car, or not going to school for a week, because there’s no money for lunches.
Relational deprivation for a child might mean not talking to your parent about your troubles because you don’t want to add to their stress, or your parent constantly being distracted because they’re desperately seeking accommodation or working out how to buy food.
In a wealthy country like Australia we know what the answers are – at least to material poverty. We’ve even trialed some of them during the pandemic. For example, we raised income payments for a short while.
Work by the Australia Institute suggests that the Coronavirus Supplement brought 4.1 percent of Tasmanian children aged under 15 out of poverty. That’s almost 4000 children!
For a child, that meant more and healthier food and a less stressed household. Yet, sadly, at the stroke of a pen, we took the extra money away.
Anti-Poverty Week gives us a time rally together and really push to do things differently to ensure our entire society thrives.
We could start with poverty reduction targets for children. New Zealand has set these and is already making headway.
Another simple step could be requiring that any policy that affects children must be subject to a child rights impact assessment.
These changes, in addition to raising income payments, are simple, achievable steps that we can build upon. Because ultimately, poverty reduction is about building a community that truly places the rights and wellbeing of our children at its centre and in doing so makes Australia better for all.