Despite strong living standards across most of Australia, the status quo of poverty has been maintained. The Salvation Army sees the human face of poverty and disadvantage on a daily basis. Increasingly, that face is represented by children, young families, single parents and marginalised older people. This group is also made up of asylum seekers and refugees and those struggling with addictions and poor mental health. This year The Salvation Army has continued to work with the government and other providers of welfare services to assist Australians experiencing turmoil, uncertainty and hopelessness.
One in eight Australians live below the poverty line, according to research from the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS). This equates to more than 2.2 million people, with close to 600,000 of them children. Those most at risk of poverty are the unemployed, children (especially in lone parent families), and people whose main source of income is social security payments. Poverty has two elements: lack of access to a fair and minimum standard of living and the lack of opportunity to participate fully in society. A significant proportion of people accessing The Salvation Army’s emergency relief and support services are struggling to meet everyday expenses and financial commitments. Most of The Salvation Army’s clients are reliant upon income support payments, with 90% of respondents to the organisation’s 2013 National Economic and Social Impact Survey indicating that they were in receipt of these payments. This year The Salvation Army joined other welfare agencies to advocate that the level of Newstart income is insufficient to make ends meet and stay above the poverty line. The Salvation Army takes as its responsibility to advocate on behalf of those who often struggle to be heard.
The issue of homelessness and housing affordability and access has remained a serious problem for many clients approaching The Salvation Army and other welfare service providers. An ACOSS survey of 532 community service organisations this year found the services least able to meet demand amongst their own client groups were housing and homelessness services at 66%. The 2011 Census identified that the number of people experiencing homelessness had risen from 89,728 in 2006 to 105,237 in 2011. On any given night in Australia, one in 200 people are homeless. The scarcity of affordable housing options and the high cost of private rental deems it unlikely that such inadequacies and deprivations will be resolved. In 2011 there was a shortage of 539,000 properties that were affordable and available to lower income renters in Australia, according to the National Housing Supply Council. It is estimated this shortfall has grown since 2011.
The majority of those seeking assistance from homelessness services are women escaping family violence. The Salvation Armyhas supported approximately 6,000 clients through its family violence accommodation services in the last 12 months. One in three Australian women over the age of 15 reports having experienced physical or sexual violence at some time in their lives. Without appropriate action, three quarters of a million Australian women will experience and report violence in the period of 2021/22, costing the Australian economy $15.6 billion, according to a projection by The National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. The Salvation Army believes that strategies to address family violence must gain greater prominence in public policy and community responses.