Anti-Poverty Week Speech

In recognition of Anti-Poverty Week, today Abigail spoke of the need to eliminate poverty in NSW and to recognise that even before COVID-19 over 900,000 people in this state lived below the poverty line.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (00:14:14): This week is Anti‑Poverty Week and this Saturday is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Prior to the COVID‑19 crisis almost 900,000 people in New South Wales were estimated to be living in poverty. That is more than 13 per cent of our population. That is not acceptable. It is 2020. We have multiple billionaires in this State and hundreds of thousands of millionaires. Yet here we are with close to a million people in poverty and staggering wealth inequality that grows worse every year. The Henderson poverty line, which is calculated by reference to the disposable income required to support the basic needs of a family of two adults where one has some paid employment and there are two dependent children, is currently estimated at just over $1,030 per week. It is around $927 per week where neither adult is employed. When the Federal Government chose to raise JobSeeker temporarily to $550 per week, it was the first time in over 15 years that it actually lifted the average family payment above the poverty line.

But it is short‑lived. The October 2020 decision to decrease JobSeeker to just $407.50 per week will plunge hundreds of thousands back into poverty. People on the Disability Support Pension, Age Pension, and Carer Payment did not receive an increase to their payments in March 2020 and have continued to live in poverty throughout the COVID‑19 crisis. Similarly, non‑permanent residents, including international students, continue to be ineligible for welfare payments, and with a shrinking job market and difficulties returning home many have been plunged into extreme poverty since COVID‑19 commenced. Research by the Australian National University Centre for Social Research & Methods has forecast that every region of Sydney will record an increased rate of poverty in October 2020 compared to before the pandemic, with western Sydney hit the hardest.

People are living in poverty and nothing our governments do is improving that picture in any meaningful way. The situation has not improved since Bob Hawke pledged in 1987 that no Australian child would live in poverty by 1990. It has not improved under Labor governments. And it certainly has not improved under Liberal governments. Yet a government's primary purpose should be to ensure and improve the wellbeing of the people it represents. If one part of society is in poverty while another is enjoying excessive wealth, there is something very wrong with that economy. It is the job of a responsible government to more fairly distribute society's wealth. If there are insufficient jobs, or if wages are too low, employment conditions too precarious and people lack the skills to take on the jobs available, that is primarily the fault of the government of the day. If the Government fails to provide job opportunities, or if it allows wages to sit at too low a level and people are not getting what they need to survive, let alone thrive, then it is the Government's responsibility to fix that situation.

Do the members know what works really well at eliminating poverty? Giving people money. Just this week we saw the results of yet another study from The University of British Columbia in a joint study with Vancouver‑based Foundations for Social Change that showed giving cash to those doing it tough leads to happier and more productive people as well as lowering longer-term costs to society. It is simply not true to claim that giving people cash will lead to laziness. It is not true that poor people do not know how to spend their money responsibly. These persistent myths about those on welfare are holding our society back and stopping us from properly supporting people to achieve their potential. There are 50 years of excellently compiled research in Rutger Bregman's bookUtopia for Realists that show conclusively that people who have access to the things they need to live happily and comfortably overwhelmingly choose to make productive and meaningful contributions to society.

Our society does not require the threat of destitution to achieve outcomes for our collective benefit. Philip Alston, the former United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, correctly stated that poverty is a political choice. It is a choice that deems some people as deserving of nothing while allowing others to make ever more money out of their existing wealth. In a society as rich as ours, no person should be too poor to live a good life. We do not lack wealth in our State; we lack economic fairness. We must begin to refocus our economy around wellbeing and quality of life, and choose to not keep people in poverty. We have the means. It is time to make the choice to act.

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