Opinion

The roots of poverty should not become impossible to untangle

By John Lewis

Poverty is such an all-encompassing blight on a community that it is sometimes difficult to know where to start to address the problem.

The issues around poverty are a constant source of media headlines and head-scratching public discussions around employment, housing and education - to the point of numbness.

However, when we hear of a 235 per cent increase in demand for food relief this does, and should, ring alarm bells.

It may be that the Newstart allowance is too low, rental accommodation costs are too high and that jobs are too scarce.

It may also be that people are making poor choices - spending their income on things other than the basics.

There are those who think life should not be made too easy for people who rely on government allowances - people need to feel uncomfortable enough to seek ways to improve their own lives.

But when we see figures of 313 per cent more children relying on food charity coupled with a 145 per cent increase in homelessness, the community must step in and offer help.

Unpicking the tangled roots of poverty can seem an impossibility, but it should not lead to paralysis or a hardening of attitudes.

Shepparton Family and Financial Service manager Michelle Attenborough drew our attention to the high cost of accommodation, which in some instances can be 45 per cent of income.

This is a crushing amount for anyone living on the Newstart rate of about $40 a day.

So anyone living on this kind of money faces stark choices; housing or food? And what sort of food? School uniforms or transport? Petrol or rent?

Poverty at this level is a systemic problem which needs an all-of-community approach to solving.

We do have many skilled and passionate people working in this space: notably FamilyCare, The Bridge, The Lighthouse Foundation, Foodshare, as well as religious charities, community groups, government agencies and our own council which to its credit, has released a draft affordable housing strategy for comment.

But despite the strategies, the programs and the volunteerism, there are still people asking for food and shelter in our community.

In the end, nothing will ever provide more security, more choice or more individual freedom than providing a basic and liveable income.

Which brings us back to the Newstart allowance which has not been increased in real terms for 25 years.