In October 2002 the Australian Senate referred, for inquiry and report, questions related to poverty and financial hardship to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee. The former Department of Family and Community Services responded to the Committee's request for submissions as part of their information gathering process. This Occasional Paper reproduces the Department's submission.
The key themes of the submission are:
- Australia has high and rising living standards with the benefits having been shared widely across the community.
- While some Australians continue to face disadvantage this is often the result of a number of compounding factors and the existence of multiple disadvantage.
- Traditional approaches to poverty which tend to focus on the use of simple income measures are not adequate to identify this type of problem, nor do they provide guidance on the factors which cause it.
- The important challenges for social policy, in addition to tackling this form of multiple disadvantage, concern improving economic participation where this is possible.
- This focus is underpinned by the need to respond to the changing demographic landscape of Australia, with recognition that economic participation is important not just for the welfare of families and individuals while they are of working age, but in promoting greater levels of well-being in retirement.
The submission notes the extensive range of programs currently in place to provide income support and strengthen the capacity of individuals, families and communities, although it highlighted:
- the need, previously identified, for the reform of working age payments to simplify the structures, address anomalies and strengthen the effectiveness of these payments to support participation and self-reliance;
- a recognition that addressing the poor outcomes recorded by some Australians requires much earlier intervention, whereas current programs are inclined to respond to problems after they arise; and
- that improving social outcomes cannot be achieved by one level of government, or by government alone, but requires individual, family, community and society-wide commitment and acceptance of responsibility.
The submission also incorporates a significant technical discussion of the issues associated with the measurement of income distribution and different approaches to poverty measurement. Emphasising the importance of moving away from some of the traditional approaches of income poverty the Department attached to its submission a copy of research which has been undertaken on hardship using financial stress indicators. This has been published by the Department as Occasional Paper 4 Hardship in Australia.