As a society, we need to ensure public policy is designed to give our children the best chance in life. The research shows that this means ensuring they live in a home with enough money to buy the basics and participate in the community.
What would you say if I told you there is one way that would – without a doubt - improve our childrens’ physical and mental health, behavioural development, social and educational outcomes, and their overall life prospects? It would be to make sure that no child in Australia lives in poverty.
Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke was right. A review of 61 studies of the impact of financial resources on children’s outcomes by the London School of Economics found that when families’ incomes increase, child outcomes improve across health, wellbeing and development measures. When families have more money, they spend more on fresh food, education and health. There is less stress in the home, leading to better mental health outcomes. Obviously quality, affordable early learning and education is essential for our children and young people to get ahead. The evidence suggests that if you reduce poverty amongst families, children can thrive.
This is why we fight so hard to increase the incomes of very low-income families. In Australia, 731,000 children live in poverty. 40% children living in poverty live in single-parent households. If you are a single parent locked out of paid work in Australia, your risk of living in poverty is over 50%. Despite all data, single parents have borne some of largest cuts to income in recent years. For example, single parents not able to get paid work lose $85 per week when their youngest child turns eight. After their child celebrates their 8th birthday, they still need to pay rent or a mortgage like the rest of us, but have to do so with much less.
This year, the parliament voted to freeze the rates of Family Tax Benefit payments for all families for two years. When the cost of energy, food and rent rises, family tax benefit will remain the same. Low-income single parents will feel this loss most acutely because they already have inadequate incomes to cover the cost of essentials.
The University of New South Wales recently conducted detailed research showing that a single parent needs an income of around $675 per week to sustain a very basic existence. If they can’t get work, and rely on Newstart Allowance, they’re currently falling short by a staggering $130 per week. Could you raise a child in Sydney or Melbourne on just $545 per week?
As a society, we want to ensure our children have the best chances in life. We want them to be happy and healthy and have the opportunity to follow their hopes and dreams. As a society, we need to ensure public policy is designed to give our children the best chance in life. The research shows that this means ensuring they live in a home with enough money to buy the basics and participate in the community.
Bob Hawke took his commitment seriously. By fixing and improving our family payment system from 1987 to 1990, he reduced child poverty by 30 per cent. The evidence shows we are not hitting that mark in Australia. We must instead stop cutting the incomes of low-income families, especially single parent families. We must increase income support payments for those families locked out of paid work. And we must recognise there is a lack of paid work available. There is one job in Australia for every ten people looking for paid work.
Children have a right to be free of poverty. If a parent/s cannot find paid work or can’t be in paid work because of caring responsibilities, a child should not have to live in poverty as a result. We have enough money in Australia to make sure all children have the best start in life. It is up to all of us to commit to end child poverty in Australia, and for our political leaders to do just that – lead and make this happen.