The latest research from the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) highlights successive government policy as having failed to address poverty and the growing disadvantage in many Australian communities.
The research report’s key recommendations call for greater consultation, community-based care and early intervention programs with a view to long-term and lasting reform.
CEDA Chief Executive Professor the Hon Stephen Martin said far-reaching policy reform is necessary to effectively address social and economic issues associated with entrenched disadvantage.
“It is a disgrace given more than 20 years of economic expansion in Australia that 4 to 6 per cent of the population – one to 1.5 million Australians – is classed as being in entrenched disadvantage, with little to no hope of getting out of that situation,” he said.
“We need to tear up the rule book and have a radical overhaul of how we tackle entrenched poverty. Labour market programs – essentially using a big stick to tell people they’ve got to get a job or face even further financial disadvantage – should not be the primary policy instrument for this group of people.”
National Director of UnitingCare Australia Lin Hatfield Dodds noted the amalgamation of competing priorities as significant challenge for effective reform.
“A range of good intentions have been ground together with economic imperatives, political trades and other agendas over many years, leaving us with a system that is not fit for purpose,” she said.
“People accessing welfare are, by definition, in the midst of challenging times. The entire premise of welfare is that it is a supportive, reliable safety net.
“Payments should allow people to cover their basic expenses and to participate in the community. If these things are not possible, disadvantage will deepen.”
Speaking to Fairfax Media, Prof Martin said despite economic growth poverty in Australia persists due to the systemic policy failures such as labor market programs and the so called ‘big stick’ approach.
“This does nothing to alleviate those that are in entrenched disadvantage and those in the bottom half of the cycle of poverty – it does nothing to lift them out of that…”
“What we’re saying is that the welfare to work approach that’s been adopted of trying to force people from welfare into work without giving any due regard to issues like the mental health circumstances they might have.
“The fact they might be in jobless households which may be intergenerational in nature, the fact that they may come from disadvantaged communities … the fact that they might come from Indigenous backgrounds where hardship is rife – all of these are factors which have to be taken into consideration when working out what are the best possible strategies to deal with these matters.”
Prof Martin talks more about the ‘big stick’ approach in this video.