Wednesday, 1 June 2011

POVERTY: Australia: Third of Queensland 'at risk of poverty'

From: AAP May 24, 2011
SPIRALING cost of living pressures mean a third of all Queenslanders, if not more, are living in poverty or dangerously close to it, a new report warns.
The Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) report, which was released today, calls on governments to ensure safety nets for at-risk households are adequate.
The report cites the latest poverty statistics, from the 2006 census, which said 10 per cent of Queenslanders were living blow the breadline with another 20 per cent precariously close to it.
But there's been no fresh data on poverty since then, and QCOSS says the real figure could be much higher, in the wake of the global financial crisis and in the face of soaring bills for basics including electricity.
QCOSS president Karyn Walsh says the figure in a nation as prosperous as Australia is alarming.
"Low income people are really struggling just with the essentials," she told AAP.
"The increase in electricity prices, the increase in housing affordability, the increase in food. They're all constantly going up and people are juggling between whether they have the electricity on or have food on the table."
The report looks at different types of hypothetical households, based on the experiences of real ones, and the pressures they face.
Those households are a single parent one with two children, an unemployed single person, and a working family, with the highest income of the three households belonging to the working family at $66,000 per annum.
Manager of Low Income Consumer Advocacy for QCOSS, Linda Parmenter, said they have estimated that about 35 per cent of households earn that amount or less.
"But whether you're struggling is going to depend on things such as your household size, whether or not you own your home, it's very difficult to put an exact figure on it," Ms Parmenter said.
"Certainly the households we have in our report are not rare."
Ms Parmenter said the $66,000 figure is under the median household income and includes government benefits and if you are in a four person family "that doesn't stretch very far".
She said that family could just get by providing there were no sudden changes affecting the income like a reduction in working hours, sickness or an essential item breaking down.
But for the other two households Ms Parmenter said "getting by" is not achievable.
"So our single parent household is about $28 in deficit each week and our unemployed single male is about $25 in deficit each week."
Ms Parmenter said QCOSS's estimates are conservative, so many may be worse off.
She said the other point QCOSS had tried to make in the report is that even though CPI growth has not been all that high, essential items have gone through large cost increases.
"If you're a low income household you're only buying essential items each week ... you can't defer paying for food and rent and so on."
Ms Walsh called on the Bligh government to use the report as a catalyst for reviewing concessions for at-risk households, to ensure the support they're receiving is adequate.
"Australia has always prided itself on having a safety net and it's vital that government keep an eye on how that's working," she said.
"Certainly, we're saying this is an opportunity for the Queensland government to do an independent review of the concession framework and look at appointing a minister or parliamentary secretary dedicated to cost of living issues."

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