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Poor-blaming lets governments off the hook

  • 26 October 2021
  Last week, former NSW Liberal minister Pru Goward contributed an opinion piece ‘Why you shouldn’t underestimate the underclass’ in the Australian Financial Review, which, since publication, has been widely condemned as offensive, owing to its contempt for lower socio-economic Australians. ‘They are damaged, lacking in trust and highly self-interested’, the article begins.

Referring to disadvantaged people as ‘proles’, Ms Goward writes: ‘Like the stoats and weasels of the Wild Wood in The Wind in the Willows … they rejected the rules and lived by their own. They were to be feared and were, to use my mother’s words, not very nice’, and ‘they are over-represented in their use of government crisis services and are always the last to give up smoking, get their shots and eat two servings of vegetables a day.’ And yet Ms Goward claims to ‘like’ the people she writes about, because ‘they call us out.’

In light of the above, I feel it is important to share my experience of being involved with the St Vincent de Paul Society for 27 years. The people described by Ms Goward are not the people I’ve visited, helped and interacted with in my time with the Society.

The people we assist are often the first ones to give away what little they have. I remember a home visit, delivering a box of food, sitting with this guy and hearing his story, and feeling how meagre this box of food was given his significant needs, yet he was so grateful and speaking of how he would be sharing it with the single mum next door because she has a kid and they struggle to get by. This sort of thing is more the rule rather than the exception. These are not people driven by naked self-interest.

Marginalisation and disadvantage are, by their nature, circumstances that make human flourishing difficult. But when we know that parents on JobSeeker are forced to live below the poverty line on $44 a day and often go without meals to feed their children, to then complain that these are the people who are the last to ‘eat two servings of vegetables a day’, is hypocritical and cruel.

The Society advocates strongly and constantly on behalf of people who need assistance. The reality is that often, Governments and elected MPs just don’t want to hear the message, let alone be brave enough to do anything about it.

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