Things worth doing: tackling child poverty edition

Image result for child poverty site:auI’ve previously commented that Brian Howe was the great, quiet achiever of the Hawke/Keating years, who then turned around out of office and, rather than burnish his own reputation, got right on with the business playing a major role in getting up the NDIS. In any event I was reminded of this when receiving a standard mailout from ACOSS this morning edited highlights of which appear below.

Image result for brian howeACOSS is marking the beginning of Anti-Poverty Week with a renewed call for government to stop attacking Australia’s social safety net, and the people who need it, and instead focus on reducing child poverty in Australia, as it has been done before.

At our Press Conference today, we honour the Hawke government’s legacy of reducing child poverty by a massive 30 per cent, while shining a light on the increasing child poverty today.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie is joined by former Minister for Social Security, the Honourable Brian Howe AO who led the Hawke Government’s Family Package which successfully reduced child poverty in Australia by 30 per cent, leading social policy researcher Professor Peter Whiteford, community workers and parents with lived experience of poverty, from the Hawke era and now.

The Honourable Brian Howe AO says when he was appointed Minister for Social Security in 1984, he invited a group of social policy researchers to meet with him.

“I asked them to deliberate with me on the question, ‘if you were the Minister what would be your highest priority for reform?’” said Mr Howe.

“The last line on the butcher’s paper said ‘create a guaranteed minimum income for children’. Then, Professor Bettina Cass together with Peter Whiteford proposed a mechanism for ensuring and benchmarking the adequacy of child payments.

“Recognising the critical importance of Indexation, they proposed a system of payments in line with movements in average weekly earnings and the extension of uniform rent assistance to low income families as part of the family package. This work provided the basis for the 1987 budget commitments to social security payments for families that would over time lift families above the poverty line.

“The family package created a measure of adequacy not apparent today.

ACOSS gives a thumbs up 30 years later to Bob Hawke's child poverty pledge.“The social security system should not be a fund from which governments draw to meet budget shortfalls, but rather it should be an institution designed to outlaw poverty and enhance citizen rights, contributing to the building of a fairer Australian nation,” he said.

Dr Cassandra Goldie says the basic need of families to have enough money to live with dignity has not changed.

“Child poverty is a government choice, not a given. It is unfathomable that our government chooses to set policy agendas that increase the number of children living in poverty in this country, particularly children of single parents,” said Dr Goldie.

“So many children are missing out on what we all see as essentials: attending school excursions, getting new school clothes and books, doing sport or a hobby after school, and going on a family holiday once a year.

“Nationally, one in six children are living below the poverty line, and almost half of all children living in poverty are in single parent households.

“It doesn’t have to look like this. We’ve reduced poverty in Australia before. We can do it again.

“In 1987, the government instituted a holistic package of reforms that increased assistance for low-income families and benchmarked income support payments to the cost of children. The package also put in place housing, education, training, childcare and tax reforms to help low-income families. This package reduced child poverty by an amazing 30 per cent.

“Bob Hawke’s government did more than any has done since to reduce families living in poverty. With child poverty on the rise, it is time for government to commit to reduce child poverty.

“Today, we call on the Federal Government to commit to a headline goal of reducing poverty by at least 50% by 2030, consistent with its commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The first step that government can take to achieve this goal is to raise the lowest social security payments. Lifting unemployment payments and Family Tax Benefits for families with low incomes would have the greatest immediate impact on children living in poverty.

“It’s time for our Federal Government to provide leadership and put children first to reduce child poverty.

“People on low incomes in Australia, including single parents and their children, need an adequate income to live free from poverty.

“Together we can end poverty. We just need the political will to make it happen.”1

Download the ACOSS briefing note on Child Poverty in Australia

  1. 1. OK, well I didn’t like this last line. Reminded me of Bob Hawke fluffing his lines and saying “By 1990 no child will live in poverty”, when his text said ‘By 1990 no child need live I poverty”. But that’s just pernickety old me. Good on ACOSS for all the good it’s done in the past and continues to do. Declaration of interest, I’m on a policy committee of theirs.[]
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John R Walker
6 years ago

Re the graph
Why does Norway have a fairly low rate of child poverty but a relatively high rate of elderly poverty ? The contrast with Swedens position on the graph is striking.

6 years ago

I found the graph fascinating too and the implications it must have for social development. One can imagine a lot of angry Canadian youth who really do have a right to complain about intergenerational equity. I also didn’t know that the Bob Hawke quote was not what he wanted to say.

Bruce Bradbury
Bruce Bradbury
6 years ago

The graph is from a review I wrote some time ago (search for Child poverty – a review), with the data coming from a paper by Forster. So it should be noted that it refers to the situation in the 1990’s.
Not sure about the Norway situation, but the minimum pension in Canada is relatively generous whereas payments for working age families are not particularly so (and wage inequality is relatively high).
Also note that poverty measurements which take account of housing costs place child poverty as higher than elderly poverty in Australia (then and now). Nonetheless, I agree with all your comments above about improvements.

John R Walker
6 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Bradbury

Are there more recent figures?
One other country that seems quite oddly positioned on the graph is the Netherlands.

BTW it extraordinary that housing costs are not ‘automatically ‘ in the mix.

Bruce Bradbury
Bruce Bradbury
6 years ago
Reply to  John R Walker

Income gets allocated to housing and other costs, so in that sense ‘income’ does include housing costs. When I say ‘taking account of housing costs’ I essentially mean taking account of the different levels of housing wealth that different groups have. In particular the aged mostly own their house, while working age families are either paying it off or renting.
A simple way to do this is to look at how much income people have left after they have paid for their current housing costs. This is often done in Australia, but less often in other countries.
I’ll keep my eyes open for a more current comparison of child and elderly poverty and post a link here.

John r Walker
6 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Bradbury


derrida derider
derrida derider
6 years ago

Yes, Brian Howe is an unrecognised Great Australian – he’s done more for Australia’s wellbeing than much better known and honoured people.

Beyond that, I’ll not comment here – its just too close to my present work.

6 years ago

Thank you.It feels great reading this article.