Plea to region’s MPs and mayors to address child-poverty crisis

Some 731,300 children – or 17.4 per cent of all children in Australia – are living in poverty. Photo: Shutterstock

North coast’s state and federal MPs and local councillors are being urged to do something about the region’s child-poverty crisis, with an estimated 20,000 children living in poverty.

With the region’s higher-than-state-average child-poverty rate of 20 per cent, the north coast’s peak community service organisations have launched a letter-writing campaign to elected representatives outlining the extent of the problem and urging them to act.

The campaign marks the start of Anti-Poverty Week (15-21 October).

St Vincent de Paul Society and Social Futures are working together to throw the spotlight on what they say is a largely hidden problem of children living in households where poverty is entrenched and disadvantage causes an ever-present risk of homelessness.

The effort to break the cycle of child poverty supports an ongoing campaign by the NCOSS, highlighting that one in seven of the state’s children live in households below the poverty line.

Statistics reveal that every local government area on the north coast has a child poverty rate of about 20 per cent, which is higher than the NSW average[1].

NCOSS says children and young people who experience poverty and disadvantage are more likely to have health and behavioural problems, experience housing and food insecurity, and fall behind at school.

The organisation says these childhood experiences have an impact across the entire life course, shaping their employment prospects, their health outcomes and wellbeing.

In the letter, MPs and mayors have been called on to:

  • Help children from vulnerable families get the healthiest start during the first two years of life
  • Encourage increased investment in early childhood education and care so that all children experience a quality early education from the age of three.
  • Ensure children and young people have healthy food by supporting schools in specific locations to provide breakfasts and other healthy food initiatives
  • Support programs that ensure children and young people are connected to their families and communities
  • Enable children, young people and their families to access affordable housing

St Vincent de Paul Society North Coast president,Yvonne Wynen said that ‘nearly three million Australians are now experiencing poverty, with 730,000 of them being children’.

‘No one can be blamed for being poor and this is particularly so for children who are dependent on the wellbeing of their parents and carers,’ Ms Wynen said.

‘We live in a beautiful part of the world, yet the north coast has more than 80,000 people experiencing poverty, and a further 38,500 more being at risk of it.

‘Poverty and the risk of becoming homeless go hand in hand. Around one-in-four people seeking the society’s help with food vouchers, utility bills, and so on, are believed to be homeless.

‘This situation is especially tragic for children, many of whom are at serious risk of abuse because of their circumstances.

‘We believe our elected representatives have the influence to focus more attention on the plight of young people living in poverty.

‘With appropriate support every child can thrive and look forward to a fulfilling life. This is a basic human right and the cornerstone of a civil society.’

Ms Wynen’s thoughts were echoed by CEO of Social Futures and President of NCOSS, Tony Davies who said ‘the relentless rise in cost of living expenses is placing enormous pressure on families’.

‘Research conducted by NCOSS with more than 400 families found parents are having to sacrifice essential living items like food, medical supplies and dental expenses,’ Mr Davies said.

‘They can no longer afford basic things like school excursions and children’s activities.

‘In our region, housing affordability is at crisis point and the disparity between rental prices and affordability is very grim for minimum wage earners, single parent families, pensioners and those on Centrelink benefits.

‘Safe and secure housing is fundamental for human health, the lack of which can have prolonged and significant impacts on health, education, prospects and general wellbeing all the way through one’s life.

‘Resources need to be directed toward addressing these issues now before they spiral into greater problems down the track’, Mr Davies said.

NSW co-chairs of Anti-Poverty Week are St Vincent de Paul Society NSW’s CEO Jack de Groot, and NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS) president Tony Davies, CEO of Social Futures.

[1] B Phillips et al., Poverty, Social Exclusion and Disadvantage in Australia, NATSEM, Report prepared for Uniting Care Children Young People and Families, 2013, pp. 46-50.

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