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Big ticket promises won't help our hidden millions

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There is an Australia that many people seldom encounter and its citizens number in the millions. These citizens live in all cities and regional towns, often in sub-standard yet costly housing, and struggle to survive week to week on low wages or inadequate government assistance.

Every day St Vincent de Paul members around the country meet with these Australians to hear their stories and discuss how we might offer assistance to get them through the coming week.

It will come as no surprise to learn that their concerns are not the big-ticket items that are getting headlines during this federal election campaign.

While some people might welcome the idea of an upgraded footy oval or an expanded car park, a more important issue is putting food on the table for themselves and their families. Being able to send their kids to school in proper uniforms with a full lunchbox or covering the week's rent and power bills that always rise over winter. The surge in Australia’s annual inflation rate to 5.1 per cent brought more bad news for them.

Each week, St Vincent de Paul Society members make home visits to people — our companions — who have called up seeking assistance. We do what we can to provide some short-term material assistance and friendship; it is always painful to see how hard daily life is for so many of our fellow Aussies.

It is also somewhat humbling to see how these hidden Australians manage to survive on such low incomes without savings or support systems, while often being the first to help their own neighbour in need.

 

'One can only hope that when the hype and spin of the election campaign is over and our elected representatives take their seats in parliament, they will take a more serious look at the issues faced by those millions of Australians in the greatest need.' 

 

Every circumstance is different, but each visit shows the challenges so many people face. In recent times, I’ve delivered food to a woman in her 40s who couldn’t afford sanitary products. Another whose JobSeeker benefit — paltry, as everyone knows — was stopped after she received an offer of work. An accident before she started her job left her unable to work and without any government assistance.

We’ve visited a pregnant 21-year-old and her partner in rental stress, meaning they're paying at least one-third of their household income to keep a roof over their heads. Her ID card was stolen and her Centrelink payments cut off. We gave them food vouchers and gift cards to help buy clothes for the coming baby.

A truly shocking case was the couple living in a city park, relying on disability support pensions. They had been robbed of their meagre possessions and were grateful for the bags of groceries we could provide.

Accessing housing is an ongoing struggle and even those who do have housing face the rising cost of food bills, electricity and gas, medical expenses, transport, clothing and other essentials. These are not people who are living it up or enjoying an easy life on social support; of course they’re not: we know that Centrelink payments are set well below the poverty line.

In the past year, using funds donated through our major appeals, raised at our CEO and community sleepouts and received from benefactors and customers in our shops, the St Vincent de Paul Society has provided assistance to individuals and families doing it tough, through home visits, crisis accommodation, food vans and other services.  

This support work is made possible through the efforts of the many volunteers who visit our companions and serve in Vinnies shops and other works. National Volunteer Week (16-22 May) is an opportunity to thank them for their commitment.

Vinnies will always be here to support companions who need a hand up, but we’d prefer it if people in this wealthy country didn’t have to rely on charitable assistance just to get by. We can and should be changing the systems and structures that force people into poverty and then keep them there and punish them for it. We need government to do more to make Australia a fairer country. Some of the necessary steps are described in our election policies grouped under ‘A Fairer Australia’ on our website.

The five key policy areas are Poverty and Inequity, Housing and Homelessness, People Seeking Asylum, Secure Work and First Nations. They were developed based on the day to day experience of our members and draw on Catholic Social Teaching, placing the dignity of people at the centre of public policy. 

Australia’s capacity to cover the costs of delivering these practical actions was shown in the research paper A Fairer Tax and Welfare System for Australia, developed by the Australian National University. Implementing several affordable changes could lift up to one million people out of poverty.

The report’s title highlights one of this election campaign’s unmentionables — taxation. Scant attention has been paid to creating a progressive taxation system that would enable greater social justice across the board.

One can only hope that when the hype and spin of the election campaign is over and our elected representatives take their seats in parliament, they will take a more serious look at the issues faced by those millions of Australians in the greatest need. 

 

 


 

Claire Victory is a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society and currently serves as National President. 

Main image: Man sitting in wheelchair on the street. (Lara Belova / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Claire Victory, AusPol, AusVotes2022, Election, Inequality, Disadvantage

 

 

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Existing comments

You're quite correct, Claire. There is a social and economic crisis, which is eminently fixable, staring us in the face if only we had 'eyes to see and ears to hear'. Most of us just walk on by. I wonder what the new Labor government, with support from the Greens and Teals will do to address this? The Scandinavian countries have a much better and more supportive welfare system than we do and are willing to pay the taxes to ensure it continues. The other alternative is the current situation in the USA, which is truly deplorable.


Edward Fido | 24 May 2022  

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