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Children and vulnerability – Emerging insights and how our sector can help

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Anti-Poverty Week, observed from 11-17 October, is a national campaign to raise awareness for the financial struggles thousands of Australians experience every day. Poverty has far-reaching impacts on Australia’s children, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

CELA Research and Policy Manager Megan O’Connell casts further light on disadvantage in the pandemic environment and suggests how the government and our sector can help.


By Megan O’Connell, CELA’s Research and Policy Manager

Why child poverty is a growing concern

Child poverty can have tremendous and lasting effects on children.

We know that most brain development occurs before the age of five. Poverty can affect a young child’s development, making it harder for children to succeed academically and more likely that they will experience physical and mental health problems[1].

Child poverty is strongly linked to the incidence of unemployment.

We know that in 2019 around 300,000 children were in jobless households[2]. We also know that single parents were the most likely to be jobless, with over forty percent of single parent households being jobless.

Fast forward to the present situation. What do we know about how families are faring?

  • 1.6 million people are receiving unemployment benefits
  • A new Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight was introduced to support people receiving these payments: ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Austudy, JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment, Partner Allowance, Sickness Allowance, Special Benefit, Widow Allowance and Youth Allowance.
  • As of 26 June, over 2.2 million people were recipients of the Coronavirus supplement[3]. Around 1.14 million children have a parent receiving this allowance, including half a million parents that are on JobSeeker allowance.

This means more than a million children are living in very low-income households – their capacity to stay above the poverty line is diminishing as the Coronavirus supplement reduces.

Coronavirus supplement – its impact and who it affects most

The Coronavirus supplement that the government introduced at $550 per fortnight meant that people receiving income support were far less likely to fall below the poverty line than before. The Coronavirus supplement has reduced to $250 per fortnight from 25 September to 31 December.

Prior to the reduction to $250 a fortnight in September, under 7 percent of people receiving government payments were in poverty. This rose to over 24 percent when the supplement reduced but remains lower than the nearly 70 percent of income support recipients who were in poverty pre -COVID-19[4].

The supplement is relied upon by families to pay bills and buy essentials like healthy foods:

“When the $550 ends I dread living like before again. I dread the kids going without. I dread the hunger and fear of homelessness.”[5]

This was one of the key reasons for the supplement’s introduction. By providing funds to people on the lowest incomes, the government can stimulate spending as low-income families spend any additional dollars on essentials.

The National Council of Single Mothers has surveyed their members on how the supplement has supported everyday living and found that most mothers spent the supplement on groceries, with other costs such as energy, car and housing also featuring prominently.

Chart via Anti Poverty Week

The fact that single mothers rely on the supplement for essentials is not a surprise – single mothers are consistently shown to be the cohort most likely to be in poverty, with poverty rates often almost double that of other income recipients[6].

We know single parents have been heavily affected by COVID-19 as they are more likely to work in part-time and casualised work. The employment rate of single parents has fallen, from 61 percent this time last year to 58 percent this August[7]. Single parents have left the labour market, most likely influenced by the current economic conditions, as well as caring responsibilities given the closure of schools in jurisdictions such as Victoria.

What can be done, and how can our sector help?

A number of strategies are needed to respond to the increasing incidence of poverty.

One obvious answer is to retain the COVID-19 supplement beyond the end of the year. The 2020-21 Federal Budget has the supplement finishing at the end of the year.

Housing stress is a key cause of poverty. The Everybody’s Home Campaign is focused on ensuring every Australian can have a roof over their heads. Hopefully, state budgets will go some way to addressing the housing crisis.

poverty week

Image via Everybody’s Home

Remediating the impact of poverty is also crucial.

Access to quality early childhood education makes a major difference in children’s lives, especially vulnerable children.

We must ensure all children, and particularly the most vulnerable can access early childhood education and care. Raising the minimum Child Care Subsidy payment rate would be a great start!

As the peak body for early and middle childhood education, Community Early Learning Australia is an influential and vital advocacy force for the sector and children across the country.

Our vision is for all Australia’s children to have access to quality early education. This underpins Australia’s future. We exist to amplify the value of quality early learning throughout Australia.

Find out more about our advocacy platforms and how you can get involved via our website.

Further reading:

CELA’s families and vulnerability report

[1] Diana Warren, Low-Income and Poverty Dynamics: Implications for Child Outcome, Social Policy Research Paper Nos 47, Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Social Services) 2017

[2] AIHW, 3 April 2020, Australia’s Children, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children/contents/health/the-health-of-australias-children; Sollis, K. (2019). Measuring Child Deprivation and Opportunity in Australia: Applying the Nest framework to develop a measure of deprivation and opportunity for children using the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Canberra: ARACY

[3] Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 Public Hearing – 30 July 2020 ANSWER TO QUESTION ON NOTICE

[4]https://csrm.cass.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/docs/2020/8/Impact_of_Covid19_JobKeeper_and_Jobeeker_measures_on_Poverty_and_Financial_Stress_FINAL.pdf

[5]https://antipovertyweek.org.au/2020/09/parents-receiving-the-coronavirus-supplement-dreading-cuts-at-the-end-of-september/

[6]https://csrm.cass.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/docs/2020/8/Impact_of_Covid19_JobKeeper_and_Jobeeker_measures_on_Poverty_and_Financial_Stress_FINAL.pdf

[7]https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia-detailed/latest-release#relationship-in-household


CELA Advocacy

As the peak body for early and middle childhood education, Community Early Learning Australia is an influential and vital advocacy force for the sector and children across the country.

Our vision is for all Australia’s children to have access to quality early education. This underpins Australia’s future. We exist to amplify the value of quality early learning throughout Australia.

Find out more about our advocacy platforms and how you can get involved.

 

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