Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Woe to those who punish the poor

  • 11 October 2019


I have known times in life when three-minute noodles were the only option I could afford to eat for weeks. When I strung along payment plans for bills to ensure the rent got paid. When I couldn't buy petrol for a car, let alone have it repaired, or replace bald tyres.

But my relative poverty at those times was nothing compared to those with no dietary options, no roof over their heads, or clothes or heating or cooling, or a place where they can be safe. Those who lack what we see as 'basics' are largely invisible to our political masters or dismissed as dealt with by Newstart and other means of starvation.

It's a vote winner, this business of punishing poor people for being poor. Poverty is seen as their fault, and agitation over their plight by godbotherers and social workers as damned cheeky.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (known to his mates as Seneca the Younger) famously declared that 'it is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor'. Well, I'm inclined to bracket that with Marie Antoinette's call for cake, and Malcolm Fraser's truncated quoting of George Bernard Shaw, 'Life wasn't meant to be easy…'

It sounds grand and noble, and so remarkably unaware for a member of the empire that gobbled up much of the known world of its day while riding a fiscal pony named slavery. It is probably worth remembering that Seneca was a satirist and dramatist, as well as a philosopher and statesman.

Poverty goes well beyond questions of mindsets or attitudes to Maslovian imperatives of shelter, sustenance, inclusion and meaning, which are hard to come by if you are skint.

If the opposite of poor is dirty stinking rich, do you care to hazard a guess as to where the richest of the rich live, per capita? If you nominated Trump's US of A, that postmodern Rome, you'd be right. It's number one on a list floating around business realms, followed top ten-wise by China, Japan, Germany, Canada, France, the UK, Hong Kong, Italy and Switzerland.




Oz is not without its plutocrats and billionaires, of course. The average net worth (2017-18) for Australian households is a mere $1 million, pumped up to that height by 'rising property values'. But Aussies with harbour views across multiple properties are relatively rare compared to the battlers.

ACOSS says there are more than 13 per cent of us