CT Editorial: Canberra’s wealth is in the eyes of the holders

October 19, 2017
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When more than one in 10 children in Australia’s most affluent city are living in disadvantaged circumstances Canberra has a major problem.

Melbourne and Sydney university researchers dissected more than 18 years of Centrelink records. They discovered children who grew up in households reliant on welfare benefits were much more likely to end up on welfare, and by definition in disadvantaged personal circumstances, than those from wealthier backgrounds.

Those who grew up in families dependent on Newstart received from 1.5 to 1.7 times as much assistance as “other people” later in life. Those who grew up with parents on disability mental health payments received 2.4 times as much, and those in single parent payment households 2.2 times.

While the academics may argue over the “cause and effect” linkages common sense suggests the poor don’t have the same opportunities as the rich or just well off.

It’s hard to lift yourself by your boot straps in a home scarred by unemployment, illness or both and in which the money for higher education and interest based pursuits just isn’t there.

That is the situation many of the almost 8,000 Canberra children in households on an “equivalised income” of $26,000 or less a year now find themselves in.

According to the University of Canberra’s National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling one in five ACT neighborhoods experience at least two indicators of disadvantage.

There are many areas where the childhood low income rate is higher than the capital city average. There are also some where more than one in two children live in low income households.

This is cause for concern given the ACT’s “salt and pepper” approach to public housing means welfare dependent families are spread across most suburbs; not clustered together into the poverty parks favoured across the border.

Academics aren’t the only ones who think this city is doing a poor job in looking after the less well off. Earlier this week St Vincent de Paul said it was expanding its night patrols to cope with a rising tide of homelessness caused, at least in part, by the explosion in house prices and rents over the past decade.

OzHarvest ACT, the food rescue charity that feeds the homeless and other disadvantaged members of the community, has also had to expand its services. Eight years ago donations of about 4000 kilograms of food a month were sufficient. Today 35,000 to 40,000 kilograms is not enough.

Given this has been designated as “Anti-Poverty week” in the ACT it would be good to see some positive action.

Former Labor candidate for Ginninderra, Kim Fischer, says a homeless policy that provides immediate access to supervised emergency accommodation backed up by medical and other services would be a great start.

Surely we can make that happen in Australia’s richest capital and the nation’s only city state.

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