At the start of Anti-Poverty Week, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and all eight state and territory councils of social service are calling for the development of a national plan to tackle growing poverty and inequality in Australia, including setting targets to ensure the incomes of the lowest-income earners increase at least at the pace of those in the middle.
In a statement the councils said, ‘For too long, poverty reduction has been off the political agenda, rarely spoken about or acknowledged by our political leaders.
‘This month, the Australian government signed up to poverty reduction targets as part of its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. Following this commitment, and as public policy debate opens up in the wake of leadership change, we must ensure there is space for a national conversation about poverty.
‘We all know that poverty and excessive inequality is a problem for the wellbeing of our community and our economy. It prevents people from taking part in social and economic opportunities, and it undermines the cohesiveness of our society.
‘The concentration of resources in fewer hands reduces economic participation for the majority, which ultimately hurts our economy.
‘At last count more than 2.5 million people were living in poverty in Australia, including over 600,000 children and the same number of people with disability.
‘We have seen income and wealth become more concentrated in the hands of fewer people over the last 20 years across the country. Analysis commissioned by ACOSS recently revealed that people in the highest 20 per cent income group receive around five times as much income as people in the bottom 20 per cent, while people in the highest 20 per cent have a staggering 70 times more wealth than people in the bottom 20 per cent.
‘It’s clear that not all members of our community have benefited fairly from Australia’s growing prosperity. Many have missed out on their share: women and children, sole parents, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those from families born overseas, older people, people with disabilities, and the lowest paid workers.
‘We cannot allow this trajectory to continue.
‘We are currently engaged in a national reform discussion which is about how we can grow our economy fairly. An anti-poverty plan must be part of any inclusive growth agenda.
‘The plan should elevate the 2.5 million people already living below the poverty line by ensuring they benefit from future growth.’