Jenny Begent.

Homeless. Roel Wijnants. flickr cc.

Now that we have happened upon more fortunate times, let us recognise that we are our brother’s keepers, and set to work, regardless of party distinctions and religious differences, to make this world of ours a little bit more like home for those whom we call our brethren. William Booth (1890).

Over a century ago, William Booth was advocating government for equitable distribution of wealth. We face the same challenges today, for, despite growing levels of prosperity providing improved living standards and opportunities across most of Australia, disadvantage continues to persist in our communities.

The current government’s election policy platform, Our Plan: Real Solutions for all Australians, stated as one of its aims to deliver “a decent and respectful society that gives a ‘fair go’ to all and encourages people to thrive and get ahead”.

‘A fair go to all’ means continuing to invest in those within our community who are most in need, to ensure they are able to participate fully in and contribute to our society. It is, therefore, imperative that the Federal Government consider, when determining fiscal priorities within the next budget, the needs of those who are disadvantaged.

We should never aim for the restoration of the nation’s budget at the expense of the basic human rights of individuals and families. And it is incumbent upon those who represent the marginalised and disadvantaged in our communities to continue to advocate for a just and equitable approach to addressing the current challenging fiscal climate.

Government can participate in the transformation of those on the margins and those whose lives are at risk of disadvantage and poverty by:

  • Thorough review of the current tax system
  • Strengthening the social safety net
  • Providing improved opportunities and pathways for low-income households

Add to that a focus on the following key areas, and government could would work towards ensuring their aim of ‘a fair go to all’ is well on the way to being achieved.

  1. Strategic infrastructure investment

Making targeted and strategic investments in infrastructure is one of the best things our government can do to create jobs, stimulate our economy, and tackle climate change, particularly in public transit infrastructure, affordable housing, and social infrastructure.

  1. Measures to tackle child poverty

The federal government needs to develop a national anti-poverty strategy, tackling the many causes of child poverty, including persistent unemployment, proliferation of insecure jobs, and stagnant wages. Creating jobs through infrastructure and other strategic investments and improving access to childcare are just some of the ways our government can begin to lift children and their families above the poverty line.

  1. Family violence

To challenge the issues underlying family and domestic violence, The Salvation Army believes changes must occur in attitudes towards women. Urgent changes are needed to promote independence and decision-making, to challenge gender stereotypes and roles, and strengthen and value respectful relationships. These changes are best achieved through prevention and early intervention programs which disrupt and prevent family and domestic violence. It is important that government continues to resource the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women & their Children 2010-2022, which identifies strategies to promote gender equality and address causal issues to strengthen positive, equal, and respectful relationships across our community.

  1. Poverty & disadvantage
House. GotCredit. flickr cc.

The Economic & Social Impact Survey, conducted annually by The Salvation Army, highlights the inadequacy of income support payments for disadvantaged Australians trying to make ends meet. More than half those engaged in the research reported going without meals and the basic necessities of life, while others faced impossible choices such as between paying the rent or buying food for their children.

These circumstances have a detrimental impact on children, representing a significant risk to the individual child’s health, development, and wellbeing. In addition, there is a cost to the community if children do not flourish and are ultimately unable to participate in the social and economic community in the future.

  1. Housing & homelessness

A number of innovative social housing models have been developed over the last few decades to provide remedies for the growing shortfall of affordable and social housing in Australian capital cities and regional centres. Many of these initiatives are providing much-needed assistance, and may benefit from the establishment of an affordable Housing Growth Fund. Nonetheless, a growing body of research leads to the inevitable conclusion that only sustained and significant investment by federal and state governments, combined with policy change, is likely to resolve housing affordability issues. The capacity of private and not-for-profit sectors is demonstrably unable adequately to increase the supply of housing independently, as the experience of comparable countries indicates.

  1. Employment

At present, youth unemployment in Victoria is more than double the national rate. The recent youth employment interventions such as PaTH and Transition to Work have been of significant benefit. However, additional services are required, targeting specific barriers to youth engagement and participation in the labour market. These should include initiatives addressing issues related to under-employment, casualisation, social and education disengagement, and managing the transition from school to work.

The members of our current government have spent a lot of time trying to convince us they really care about poor and disadvantaged Australians. But the real test of their priorities is not what they say; it’s what they propose to do. A budget providing focused solutions to disadvantage will do far more to tackle the long-term systemic drivers of our current debt than cutting spending to income levels. Good fiscal management ensures the opportunity for each Australian to lift their current circumstances and achieve their potential.

Major Jenny Begent is Divisional Social Program Secretary of the Salvation Army Melbourne, and a Board member of Social Policy Connections.

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