The Economic and Social Impact Survey 2014 continues to paint a bleak picture of the struggles of people with limited economic and social resources, reiterating the findings of the two former ESIS surveys in 2012 and 2013.
ESIS 2014 shows the level of deprivation and disadvantage experienced by the marginalised community in Australia. Further, it seems that the level of deprivation felt by this group has remained unchanged over the three years’ The Salvation Army has conducted the national ESIS studies.
These results suggest that individuals and their families are deprived of the basic resources that are necessary to move them forward and out of their current hardships. Many of these individuals recognise the value of work and engagement in the community, but are hindered by socioeconomic and/or health barriers.
It also appears that there are sub-groups of ESIS respondents who were particularly disadvantaged, namely those receiving Newstart Allowance who have a disability or health issues, and those receiving the Disability Support Pension.
The Salvation Army is also concerned that the children in these households face a greater risk of socioeconomic exclusions, which may hinder the children’s ability to secure future employment, build healthy social connections and break the cycle of poverty in their family.
"Yes, life is very hard, but thank God for the Salvos. That little bit of help and a smile makes life a bit better, and that’s how I feel today."
- Respondent comment
ESIS 2014 took particular interest in reviewing the experiences of individuals in receipt of the Newstart Allowance and DSP, and also single parents and their children. ESIS 2014 assessed the barriers to engagement in workforce participation. Unfortunately, and of deep concern, ESIS findings suggest that these sub-groups are faring the worst and are significantly marginalised from the mainstream Australian community. In addition, ESIS 2014 looked at the experiences of asylum seekers/refugees currently residing within our communities. Although they represent a small cohort of ESIS 2014 respondents, their views and experiences are indicative of serious disadvantage and marginalisation faced by this group.
Over the past three years
ESIS reports have been conducted in an environment that has seen numerous legislative, funding, and social changes that have had significant impacts on individuals and families with financial hardships, as evidenced in current and past ESIS reports. These included changes to the Parenting Payments, and also the tightening of eligibility requirements for DSP. In addition, there is widespread social concern about issues such as youth unemployment, housing affordability, and the effect of poverty on children. The current ESIS 2014 report sits within an economic climate foreshadowing major changes to the transfer system and withdrawal of essential supports, such as the Schoolkids Bonus payments, and family tax benefits.
With the majority of ESIS respondents experiencing unemployment, The Salvation Army Australia strongly believes that there is a jobs crisis rather than a welfare crisis. On a very practical level, The Salvation Army recognises and supports the value of education and employment as key to movement out of poverty and disadvantage. A large proportion of respondents recognise that education, skills and employment are important steps toward breaking the cycle of poverty and building a good life for their family.
Findings within this report, raise serious concerns about the future of employment of these individuals and their children. ESIS 2014 identified significant barriers faced by respondents, which have hindered their ability to participate in the workforce and/or to acquire education and skills required to secure future employment. Factors such as disability and health problems, caring responsibilities, and limited resources to engage in education or job searching, all appear to impede respondents’ ability to gain sustainable employment. Additionally, there is a trend of employment decline in many “blue collar” jobs such as manufacturing and mining industries (1). Instead, the biggest employment growth sectors in the next five years are estimated to be those related to higher education, such as health and education industries. Based on the ESIS results and comments from ESIS respondents, such opportunities are unlikely to be realistic or forthcoming for many within the ESIS cohorts due to lack of financial resources, caring duties and/or disability and health issues.
Further, age has also been identified as barriers to work in ESIS 2014, particularly for those of older age group (page 11). The age barrier has also been recognised as a national issue in recent years (2). The Salvation Army believes that issues of age discrimination to employment and lack of workforce for those aged above 50 years needs to be addressed before implementing any policy to increase current pension age.(3,4)
Without proper interventions, these barriers are likely to place the following groups at risk of long-term unemployment in the next five years, thus at a higher risk to be trapped on long-term poverty and entrenched deprivations:
- Those receiving income support payments or those with low income, and/or
- Individuals with disability/health issues or caring for family members with disability/health issues, and/or
- Workers of older age, and/or
- Those individuals with limited education, employment or relevant industry and workplace skills, including lack of real work experience.
The Salvation Army strongly advocates for policy directions and service models that alleviate these barriers and provide resources that allow individuals to build their skills, increase their financial resilience, and gain education or skills to increase their capability and competitiveness in securing sustainable employment in the changing employment environment and economic climate.
In addition, The Salvation Army recognises that in the current economic climate, there is a need for trade-offs and tough choices. Nevertheless, we strongly oppose changes that will further disadvantage those who are already significantly marginalised. It is very unlikely that shifting people to lower rates of income support will increase their workforce participation. On the contrary, such a shift may increase the incidence and the entrenchment of poverty, which will further hinder their ability to secure a sustainable employment as evidenced in various senate submissions and campaigns from community and business sectors to increase Newstart allowance.(5,6)
Current job search and employment service programs are having little impact on those with significant disadvantage. The Salvation Army supports policy directions and initiatives that boost workforce participation and that provide real work experience and work based training. For example, increasing income thresholds for people on Newstart Allowance to levels comparable to those of the Parenting Payments and supporting real work placements linked to ongoing employment are such measures that could be pursued. As stated in its pre-budget submission for the 2014-2015 federal budget (7) The Salvation Army strongly supports policy directions and service models that emphasise employability skills, meaningful work experiences that provide employment skills and opportunities, alongside partnerships in local communities that encourage the development of local supports and initiatives.
A very real issue is the support for families to ensure their children continue to engage in education and training. ESIS 2014 clearly identifies that many children of parents on income support are being deprived of learning opportunities through school and in mainstream recreational activities. The potential long term impacts are concerning, particularly in light of proposed changes to Schoolkids Bonus, child care rebates and Family Tax Benefits.
Housing affordability and access continues to remain a very real issue for this cohort. Forty-two per cent of ESIS 2014 respondents were in private rental and 14 per cent reported being homeless or in unstable accommodation. Twenty-eight per cent were delaying rent payments due to economic hardship. The impact of rising private rental costs and the diminishing public housing stock leave few options and are likely having a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals with already constrained financial capacity.
As noted in The Salvation Army’s pre-budget submission for the 2014-2015 federal budget(8),
Recognising the intrinsic links between low income, housing affordability and risk of homelessness, The Salvation Army emphasises that without an increase in social security allowance payments, rent assistance and national measures that support and drive low cost housing supply, housing stress will continue to increase for people and families on low income, increasing their risk of homelessness.
The Salvation Army’s ER services nationally are experiencing increasing demand from asylum seekers living on bridging visas and refugees, who find themselves in increasing disadvantage and desperation (9). Under their visa conditions, the vast majority of asylum seekers have no rights to work or study, and received minimum or no income support payments. The report suggests that children of asylum seekers and refugees are among those experiencing the highest deprivation, as every single child within this group was reported to be deprived of at least one essential item. The results strongly support the need to provide financial and social resources to these families in a way that directly addresses their basic human rights and to reduce the level of children’s deprivation to a minimum level.
The Salvation Army has an extensive history and established reputation for working with individuals and families who are impacted by poverty and deprived of opportunities and activities considered part of everyday life within Australia. The Salvation Army’s imperative has always been to advocate for a just and equitable approach to addressing the causes and influences of disadvantage and poverty. ESIS 2014 confirms the need for this work to continue. Whilst the barriers to employment, education and training exist and fail to meet the needs of those wanting to work, it is important that economic and social supports exist to ensure individuals and families do not fall even further into disadvantage and poverty. At a very practical level, provision of and access to emergency relief is a safety net for many within our communities and provides an essential buffer. As one respondent noted,
"It’s a very demoralising situation to be in. I have been employed for 25 years and have never received unemployment benefits. It’s been the toughest time in my life. I haven’t anything left t to sell. I just want to be normal, which isn’t happening lately. It’s very depressing." - Respondent comment
The individuals and families represented within ESIS 2014 are no different to the majority of the Australian community in their wish to provide adequately for themselves and their families: to put food on the table, pay bills, provide opportunities for their children and to engage in work and participate actively in their communities. Restricted economic and social resources however define their experiences of deprivation and poverty. Along with its predecessors, the 2014 ESIS report depicts the experiences of deprivation and poverty of those most disadvantaged and marginalised. These findings communicate an imperative that the Salvation Army continues to advocate for these individuals, and works to alleviate the burden of social and economic disadvantage in every way possible.
1. Jericho, G., 2014, ‘838,100 new jobs, but few blue collars’, ABC (The Drum), 2nd April, accessed 7th May 2014, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-02/jericho-838100-new-jobs-but-few-with-blue-collars/5360042
2. Wilson, C., 2013, ‘Unemployment among older Australians a national disaster, age discrimination commissioner says’, ABC News, 3rd November, accessed: 7th May, < http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-02/older-people-struggle-to-reenter-workforce/5065854>
3. Massola, J., 2014, ‘Retirement age rise to 70 by 2035, Joe Hockey announces’, Sydney Morning Herald, 2nd May, accessed: 7th May 2014, < http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/retirement-age-rise-to-70-by-2035-joe-hockey-announces-20140502-zr318.html>
4. Featherstone, T., 2013, ‘Do businesses want older workers?’, Sydney Morning Herald, 26th November, accessed: 7th May 2014, < http://www.smh.com.au/small-business/managing/blogs/the-venture/do-businesses-want-older-workers-20131126-2y6re.html>
5. ACOSS, 2013, ‘$35 a day: not enough to live on’, ACOSS, accessed 7th May 2013, http://www.acoss.org.au/images/uploads/ACOSS%20Newstart%20Brochure%202013.pdf
6. Business Council Australia, 2012, ‘Submission to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee Inquiry into the Adequacy of the Allowance Payment System for Jobseekers and Others’, BCA.
7. The Salvation Army (2014) Australia Pre-Budget Submission 2014-2015 Federal Budget. The Salvation Army, Blackburn, Victoria.
8. Op cit.) p 9.
9. Australian Human Rights Commission, 2013, Tell Me About: Bridging Visas for Asylum Seekers, accessed 7th May 2014, < https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/tell-me-about-bridging-visas-asylum-seekers>