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Key Findings

This Economic and Social Impact Survey (ESIS) 2015 is the fourth consecutive report by The Salvation Army exploring the levels of deprivation and disadvantage experienced by those who access Emergency Relief (ER) services.

Nationally, The Salvation Army operates an extensive network of emergency relief centres, corps, social programs and employment services to deliver comprehensive and inclusive responses to individuals and communities who experience disadvantage. The Salvation Army is one of the largest providers of Emergency Relief (ER) services in Australia, and provides a safety net for many who are struggling to make ends meet.

Each year The Salvation Army contributes approximately $20 million of internally generated funds to its Emergency Relief services. Annually, The Salvation Army provides ER to nearly 160,000 distinct clients across Australia and delivers over 320,000 episodes of ER support1,2.

ESIS 2015 provides a detailed analysis of 2,406 responses to the survey distributed through 262 Salvation Army ER and community support services across Australia during February 2015.

The results from the study reveal a bleak picture of entrenched and persistent poverty and disadvantage for a significant proportion of people who access Salvation Army ER and support services. Individuals and their families struggle to meet everyday expenses, essential items and financial commitments. 

This ESIS report provides a voice to those most disadvantaged and disenfranchised within our communities, and advocates for a more just and equitable approach to addressing the needs and disadvantage experienced by many. This year, our research highlighted the dire circumstances and experiences of a number of specific groups.

These included:

  • Individuals and families experiencing housing stress and homelessness
  • Individuals and families experiencing financial hardship
  • Individuals and families in receipt of income support (in particular Newstart allowance, Disability Support Pension and Parenting payments)
  • Single person households 
  • Adults and children affected by poverty and multiple deprivations.

ESIS 2015 illustrates that these struggling groups continue to experience ongoing levels of disadvantage and poverty. These marginalised and disenfranchised individuals and families are of deep concern to The Salvation Army.

“The Committee for Economic Development of Australia has found that between 4 and 6 per cent of the population — or between 1 and 1.5 million — is classed as being in poverty, with little to no hope of getting out of that situation.” 3
“Relative poverty in Australia (14.4% of the population) is higher than the OECD average (11.3%).” 4

ESIS 2015 respondents continue to encounter severe housing stress connected with inadequate economic resources. Results highlighted that individuals spent 59%5 of their total income per week on accommodation expenses. Therefore, individuals spent $180 per week on accommodation6 and had less than $125 a week left ($17.86 per day) to live on7.

“10% of Australians report that they cannot afford to buy enough food. This share has increased somewhat over the past years”8.

Poverty is more than a lack of income; it is experienced across a number of dimensions and includes multiple deprivations.

As outlined in previous ESIS reports, the children of survey participants continue to experience high levels of deprivation, including the lack of essential items and services due to their parent’s limited financial resources. The survey captures data for 2,864 children; of these, 60% of children were affected by severe deprivations (went without five or more essential items). This indicated that almost two-thirds of children missed out on basic necessities and were directly affected by their family’s lack of options and limited economic resources. Individuals reported that they had few options to improve their situation.

“The multidimensional nature of poverty forces us to look at the multiple deprivations people experience together, as well as income poverty” - Sabina Alkire, Director, Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative9.


The ESIS 2015 report captures and highlights the experiences of many Australians impacted by poverty and disadvantage. It depicts a disturbing and bleak picture of the complex challenges and exclusions faced by many people in this marginalised group. Responses to these issues are complex and require strong commitment, leadership and fairness from all levels of government and the community to end entrenched poverty and persistent disadvantage. Consequently, The Salvation Army calls for a shift in social policy direction led by the Federal Government to address the causes of persistent and chronic disadvantage across our communities.

“The number of Australians living in entrenched disadvantage is a disgrace and without a radical policy shake-up Australia will never reduce this number or the cost to taxpayers.” - CEDA Chief Executive, Professor Stephen Martin

This report advocates for a fair and just response for all Australians to ensure they can create the resources and develop capabilities to meaningfully engage and contribute in their communities. The Salvation Army is concerned that the current political and economic climate may have a detrimental impact on already disadvantaged individuals and their families.

The question for the Australian community is, “How can we expect people to continue to live like this?”

  1. The Salvation Army 2015. Caring for people across Australia: The Salvation Army Community Support Services.
  2. The Salvation Army Service and Mission Information System (SAMIS) is a customised, in-depth and unique client management, data collection, information and reporting system used by most Salvation Army social programs across Australia.
  3. The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (2015). Addressing Entrenched Disadvantage in Australia (2015). Accessed 21 April 2015.
  4. OECD (2014). Society at a Glance 2014 Highlights: Australia OECD Social Indicators. Accessed 8 December 2014.
  5. Equals accommodation expenses divided by rough estimate income. 
  6. Median.
  7. Median per week.
  8. OECD (2014). Society at a Glance 2014 Highlights: Australia OECD Social Indicators. Accessed 8 December 2014.
  9. OECD Post 2015 Reflections: Keeping the multiple dimensions of poverty at the heart of development. Element 1, paper.
  10. Unstable accommodation including homeless/temporary accommodation/couch surfing/caravans.
  11. Equals accommodation expenses divided by rough estimate income.
  12. Median per week.
  13. Extreme housing stress is defined as respondents using >50% of income.
  14. Median per week.