A REPORT launched by the St Vincent de Paul Society to mark Anti-Poverty Week 2015 confronts the stigma facing the nation’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens.
The society’s chief executive officer Dr John Falzon said “Sick with worry” contained stories from “the frontline of inequality”.
“‘Sick with worry’ details more than 20 stories from people located around Australia who are assisted by the St Vincent de Paul Society,” he said.
Dr Falzon said the recently released report also identified 14 recommendations for urgent action by the Federal Government to help enable people to achieve their dreams of a life without poverty.
Vinnies’ Queensland chief executive officer Peter Maher said it was worrying and upsetting that this kind of disadvantage was so evident in Australia in the 21st Century.
“The reality is that our Queensland volunteers hear hundreds of similar stories from the people they interact with every day,” he said.
Mr Maher said often the problems were exacerbated by a lack of forethought and understanding on the part of service providers.
“We had a fellow released from prison who was told to visit Centrelink; he was in prison for a number of years and had no idea what (Centrelink) was,” he said.
“He was told to get a ‘go’ card and take public transport to get (to Centrelink) and, again, he had no idea what that was, (and) once he gets there he’s told to apply online.”
Mr Maher said many of the current structures and systems to support the poor and disadvantaged in Australia were setting people up for failure.
The St Vincent de Paul Society’s national council decided to conduct research for the “Sick with worry” report following internal discussions that crystallised after the May 2014 Federal Budget, which was widely criticised for being unfair.
“Rather than making us feel demoralised, this report should make us feel determined,” Dr Falzon said.
“Our task is to transform these personal stories of injustice into powerful, collective struggle for a society in which people are not blamed because economic structures lock them out or, in some cases, lock them up; one in which people are not told that they would not be poor if only they chose to be a little more productive.”
Dr Falzon said the society “decided to conduct the present research because we wanted to hear the stories of those doing it toughest – those for whom every day is a battle”.
“The stigma faced by those living in poverty, the inherent insecurity that homelessness and housing stress entails and the disproportionate impact of poverty on women emerged as key themes,” he said.
Dr Falzon said key recommendations included a call on the Federal Government to commit to a national jobs plan alongside comprehensive plans for housing and health.
“The recommendation calls for the Federal Government to take the lead on tackling homelessness, including increased investment and minimum four-year funding commitments to the National Partnership on Homelessness,” he said.
“Housing taxation must be reformed and minimum wage and penalty rates should be maintained and strengthened.”
“Sick with worry” recommended making “income support adequate, and non-stigmatising, by increasing Newstart (unemployment allowance) by at least $50 per week immediately and indexing all payments to wages instead of CPI, scrapping Compulsory Income Management, increasing rent assistance and putting parents on Parenting Payment”.
By Robin Williams.