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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 17 March 2018
4 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 17 MARCH 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM 300,000 homeless Australians, 100,000 homeless children, 25 per cent unemployed Australians PHOTO: AAP VIA AP/DAVID MOIR GERRY GEORGATOS I believe Australia is facing homelessness and poverty levels the likes it has never known and nor is it prepared to admit. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) there are 110,000 homeless Australians. That's how many they've identified. However I believe there are 300,000 homeless Australians, and more than 100,000 of them are children. We've long identified that nearly one in five of Australia's homeless are children aged 12 years and younger. Many of us would not realise that there are thousands of young children on our streets exposed to violence and sexual predation. Our governments, institutions, funded organisations, and statisticians need reveal more about the extensiveness of poverty – particularly of extreme poverty – and of homelessness. Australia is a relatively affluent nation, in 2016 it was the world's 14th largest national economy by nominal gross domestic product, with the world’s secondhighest average wealth per adult but it is also home to extreme poverty. In 2016, three million people, including 731,000 children aged under 15, were living under the poverty line after paying for their housing. It is said that our growing poverty cri- sis will directly affect one in two Australians in the coming decades. We are told there are 740,000 jobless Australians but I argue there are more than two million jobless Australians. I believe 40 per cent of Australians should be recorded as living in poverty. The Henderson Poverty line, the standard used by researchers to gauge progress in the community, named from a report commissioned by the Melbourne Institute in 1966, needs to be reassessed. We are told that 750,000 children live in poverty but I argue that more than two million Australian children live poor. Poverty, unemployment, and homelessness are pronounced in the suicide toll. The poor, unemployed, and homeless fill the prisons. Nearly half the prison population prior to arrest were homeless. More than twothirds prior arrest were not employed. Nearly 90 per cent of the national prison population has not completed Year 12. Not all the unemployed are being counted: to be counted as unemployed you have to be registered with Centrelink and follow their rules in terms of looking for work. If you work one hour per week you are reported as employed. I argue that there are at least six million Australians living in poverty but we are told that three million Australians live below the poverty line. Relative poverty is a measure contextualising annual income to cost of living demands and therefore has to do with low income levels and the accumulation of cost of living stressors. Absolute poverty describes individuals and families that are not able to provide basic necessities such as housing, food, and clothing. Classism will become this nation's most hurtful sore and though it will intertwine it will subsume all the other ‘–isms’. Poverty is mounting and is a catastrophic crisisin-waiting. Migrants are particularly vulnerable, and more so migrants who have arrived in Australia from a place of socioeconomic disadvantage. Migrant Australians account for one-third of Australia's homelessness, one-third of Australians living below the poverty line, and one-quarter of Australia's suicide toll. Australia's pensioners will comprise a significant proportion of Australian poverty. Today, a pension averages annually about $23,250. It's already tough going if that is all one has access to. In 20 years the pension is trending to be worth the equivalent of $70 in present value. That means the pension alone will mean dirt-poor living. Unless Australians have their home paid off by their retirement and $1,000,000 saved in superannuation they will live their last stretch of life in poverty. Australia had around 394,000 households living in social housing in 201516, a 4 per cent increase from figures a decade ago. Many more families, at least 194,000, remain on waiting lists. If social housing were to disappear there would be millions more homeless Australians. But in the decades ahead, millions more such dwellings will be needed. Present governments – federal, state, and local need to do more to respond to homelessness and to address poverty. I'll also argue that the national unemployment rate is not five or six per cent but that it is above 20 per cent, maybe even 35 per cent of working wage Australians. Ten per cent of Australia's labour force is acutely underemployed with more than 1.1 million under-employed Australians working between one to ten hours per week only. The Northern Territory's homelessness rates are the worst in the nation and are at the higher end of the homelessness scales on the global spectrum. According to the 2011 Census figures from the ABS, 731 Territorians were homeless for every 10,000 population. This is more than seven per cent of the Territory's people living homeless. Of the total number of homeless people counted in the NT, 90 per cent identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and about half were female and half male. In 2016–17, $21.5 million in grant funding was allocated to the provision of homelessness services across the NT. The majority of these services were provided in regional and urban centres. The Kimberley region reportedly has 638 per 10,000 population homeless with one in eight of the Kimberley's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians homeless. The 2016 Census shows that the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians homeless on the night was 599 persons per 10,000; the other states and the ACT average was 43 in 10,000. The Northern Territory has a homelessness rate 15 times the national average. There are regions of the Territory where the homeless comprise 15 to 30 per cent of the local population. East Arnhem Land has the highest homelessness rate at 30 per cent. Racism, call it institutional or structural, has disgraced this nation to the point of not lifting a finger to help our homeless and poverty affected brothers and sisters but the future speaks of a time more torrid where this type of mass poverty, thirdworld-akin poverty, will be experienced by millions of Australians. Classism will rear its ugly presence and become the new norm. Imagine an Australia where 10 per cent of its people are homeless, where a quarter of Australians live in extreme poverty, and where half to three-quarters of the Australian population live below the poverty line. It is coming. * Gerry Georgatos is a prolific writer on suicide prevention; he is a suicide prevention, prison reform and anti-poverty researcher and advocate. He is the director of humanitarian projects with the non-tertiary Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights, established in Fremantle in 2016. He is a member of national projects to further develop suicide prevention, and wellbeing and education programs post-prison. Gerry's research has a focus on trauma recovery and in lifting people from poverty. He works firsthand with the homeless, impoverished, and incarcerated. He is also the National Coordinator for the National Indigenous Critical Response Service, (NICRS), an initiative established by the Australian Government funded under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and funded for $10 million over three years under the auspice of Healthcare Management Advisors (HMA).
10 March 2018
24 March 2018