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Background

In 2012, The Salvation Army released its first national Economic and Social Impact Survey (ESIS) report. This report highlighted the significant disadvantage of individuals and families accessing emergency relief through The Salvation Army. It noted that despite a strong economic and employment climate nationally, a significant number of people in our communities experience multiple indicators of deprivation simultaneously.

The ESIS 2012 utilised the Essentials of Life scale developed by Saunders, Naidoo and Griffiths (2007) [1] and provided a stark picture of the extent of disadvantage and multiple deprivation experienced by people struggling to meet everyday expenses and financial commitments. Overwhelmingly, ESIS 2012 identified patterns of lack of service access (e.g. health and dental services) and activities (e.g. social and recreational) due to affordability issues, with people having little or no financial recourse when something goes wrong.

The lack of secure and decent accommodation, with poor quality facilities (e.g. leaking gutters, doors and windows without locks, inadequate heating, and furniture in poor condition) was also identified as a major cause of deprivation due to affordability issues. At the time, the report concluded that with the scarcity of affordable housing options and the high cost of private rental, such inadequacies and deprivations were unlikely to be resolved.

Homeless teenager

“Sole parent families on income support struggle to meet essential living costs and sacrifice their own living standard to shield their children from poverty”

(ACOSS, 2013 July, p,10).

In addition, ESIS 2012 highlighted that children were disengaged from communities due to the costs associated with participating in these activities. For example, 58 per cent of respondents reported being unable to afford out of school activities for their children and 36 per cent could not afford to pay for school based activities. These finding were supported by the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS 2013) [2] who noted that:

Sole parent families on income support struggle to meet essential living costs and sacrifice their own living standard to shield their children from poverty (ACOSS, 2013 July, P.10)

The Salvation Army’s concerns about the immediate and long term impact on children of a parent’s economic poverty and level of deprivation, as detailed in the ESIS 2012 report, were supported by ACOSS. In addition, the Australian Social Inclusion Board (2012)[3] noted that 14 per cent of Australian children under the age of 15 years were living in jobless families. This report also notes data from the OECD, which places Australia as having the fourth highest proportion of under 15 year olds living in jobless families amongst OECD countries (Source: OECD (2012), OECD Family Database, OECD, Paris (www.oecd.org/social/family/database)). In its annual report for 2010, the Australian Social Inclusion Board [4] highlighted that children growing up in disadvantaged households are more developmentally vulnerable than other Australian children, and that the cycles of socioeconomic disadvantage, neglect and abuse can “rob them of the chance to develop the good health, social skills and learning abilities they need to flourish in the contemporary world” (p.9).

Following the release of ESIS 2012, a number of other reports mirrored the same issues and concerns of The Salvation Army. For example, the ACOSS Poverty in Australia Report (2013) which also utilsied the Essentials of Life scale, identified a number of key indicators for being at risk of income poverty – single people with and without children, people with disability, unemployed people and households reliant on income support as their main income source. ACOSS noted that those people on the lower income support payments (Newstart Allowance, Parenting Payments and Disability Support Payments) were far more likely to miss out on the essentials of life, indicating “a close correspondence between patterns of poverty and multiple deprivation” (p.48).

ESIS 2012 findings and concerns were reiterated in another NATSEM report, 'Going Without: Financial Hardship in Australia '[5], which, similarly, provided a detailed examination of financial hardship as seen through the lenses of poverty, measures of deprivation and financial stress. This report concluded that, after basic expenditure on food, shelter, health and utilities are taken into account, families “have only $22 per day left over” (p5).

Additionally, both NATSEM and ACOSS reports concurred with ESIS 2012 findings that highlight housing tenure as a key contributing factor to increased financial stress and multiple deprivation, particularly for those in receipt of Newstart Allowance (NSA), Parenting Payments and the Disability Support Pension (DSP).

The 2012 ESIS Report was released in an environment of significant advocacy and action by community based services and peak bodies aiming to improve the lives of those most disadvantaged and marginalised in our communities. Most notably, 2012 saw concerted advocacy action from community organisations, business and union groups to raise the rate of allowance payments. As a result, in June 2012 a Senate inquiry, initiated by The Australian Greens, called for submissions on the adequacy of the allowance payment system and how this system functions as a support into work. In its final report, The Senate Education Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee concluded:

“Newstart Allowance does not allow people to live at an acceptable standard in the long term.” [6]

The report goes on to note however “that the allowance was never intended to be a long term solution to unemployment” [7]. The reality, however, is extremely different for many people whose reliance on an income support payment is not a short term experience:

“In March 2012, 62% of people receiving unemployment allowances were on income support for more than 12 months…Even though a substantial group of people on Newstart Allowance (NSA) cycle on and off the payment within a given year, the vast majority of the funds spent on NSA are supporting long-term recipients whose chances of securing employment within the next 12 months are only about 50:50.” [8]

Two other major Senate inquiries were held during 2012, the outcomes of which have a potential impact on the client group represented by the ESIS report:

  • Amendments to the Parenting Payment has resulted in single parents being transferred to the Newstart Allowance when their youngest child turns eight years of age; and
  • The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill.

With 86 per cent of respondents to the 2012 ESIS in receipt of a government income support payment (22% on Newstart Allowance, 22% on Disability Support Pensions, 18% in receipt of a parenting payment), The Salvation Army has responded to these inquiries providing a significant voice to the call for proactive change to the systems and practices that further disadvantage and marginalise a significant portion of the Australian community.

In light of the continuing challenges facing many people accessing The Salvation Army services, The Salvation Army has again undertaken its national Economic and Social Impact Survey and presents here its 2013 report, entitled 'It’s not asking too much…'.

[1] Saunders, P. Naidoo, Y. & Griffiths, M. (2007) Towards New Indicators of Disadvantage: Deprivation and Social Exclusion in Australia. Social Policy Research Centre,Sydney, NSW
[2] ACOSS (2013) Poverty in Australia (updated March 2013) ACOSS Paper 194
[3] Australian Social Inclusion Board (2012) How Australia is Fairing. Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, ACT. sourced at http://www.socialinclusion.gov.au/sites/www.socialinclusion.gov.au/files/publications/pdf/HAIF_report_final.pdf
[4] Australian Social Inclusion Board (2010) Annual Report. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, ACT.
[5] Phillips, B & Nepal, B. (2012a) Going Without: Financial Hardship in Australia. National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM). University of Canberra, ACT.
[6] Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (2012) The adequacy of the allowance payment system for jobseekers and others, the appropriateness of the allowance payment system as a support into work and the impact of the changing nature of the labour market. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. P. 54
[7] ibid
[8] ACOSS (2012) Surviving, not living. Submission to Senate Employment Committee on the adequacy of ‘allowance’ payments. ACOSS Paper 192