Shocking report shows 1 in 8 Australians live in poverty

One in eight Australians live below the poverty line, with 60 per cent of people receiving unemployment benefits living on average $269 a week below the poverty line.

The horrific figures presented in a new joint report by the Australian Council for Human Services (ACOSS) and the University of New South Wales are exacerbated by stories of desperate measures being taken by people living below the poverty line to make ends meet.

Queenslander Brock Alexander said the meager unemployment benefits made it difficult for him to afford basic transportation, costing him potential employment.

“The other day I had to give up work because they wanted me to start work the next day, but I didn’t even have money for a train ticket to get to work, let alone buy the necessary shoes and clothes, as it was landscaping work,” said Mr. Alexander.

“I could not borrow money from my parents, as they could barely make ends meet, and my father’s clothes and shoes did not suit me.

“It’s pretty sad since I really wanted this job.”

Alexander, 24, said he couldn’t afford to register his car, so he had to walk everywhere to complete most of his errands.

Sometimes, he said, this entailed a 4-kilometer walk to the city center closest to him.

The Poverty in Australia 2023: Who’s Affected report released on Wednesday found that 60 percent of people on unemployment benefits and 72 percent of people on parental benefit lived in poverty during 2019-2020.

According to the latest available data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in eight people (13%) and one in six children (17%) overall lived below the poverty line.

The results also revealed “strongly gendered” poverty issues across the country, as households whose main source of income was women were nearly twice the poverty rate (18 percent) in 2019-20 compared to those whose main source of income was male (10 percent).

Victorian resident Tracey Krupa said she and her husband struggled to pay off mortgages on their farm without help from her family.

Krupa, 61, who is looking for work, said she had a bowel obstruction in 2022 that led to sepsis.

She spent five months in the hospital and was placed in an induced coma.

“When I came out of my coma, I needed to gather my wits to report back to Centrelink every two weeks or I would be cut off from the job search program,” Ms Krupa said.

She revealed that she then had to undergo chemo for bowel cancer and travel over 70km to Ballarat to see her oncologist — none of which were covered or reimbursed by the job seeker.

Ms Krupa said the deteriorating financial situation forced the couple to sell the farm.

“The only way we’ve been able to cover these costs is by accessing a retirement loan scheme (which allows you to pay up to $300 a week to be repaid with interest) and access to equity in our home,” she said.

“The increase in the cost of the mortgage is now starting to bite and affect my mental well-being and that of my partner.”

ACOSS said the numbers in the report revealed the “inability” of the Australian support system to cover basic costs.

The organization’s chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, said the report highlights the need to include a poverty reduction package in the May budget to increase working-age income support payments, among other financial recommendations.

“The government must also invest at least 25,000 social housing units a year, with the cost of housing a major poverty risk for low-income people,” Ms Goldie said.

“The fact that the majority of people dependent on unemployment and parental benefits live in poverty shows that current income support payments for the unemployed and single-parent families are wholly insufficient to meet basic living needs.”

Originally published as ‘One in Eight’: Shocking numbers reveal the depth of Australia’s poverty crisis