The latest ACOSS/UNSW report on Poverty in Australia, released this year, makes for sobering reading. By the measures used in the report, over 3 million Australians live in poverty, including over 750 thousand children, or approximately one in six children. The underlying reasons for poverty are varied and complex, but some relationships stand out. In households in which the main income earner is unemployed, 66% live in poverty, while households reliant on social security payments for income are five times more likely to experience poverty than others.

The economic impact of coronavirus has brought about sharp increases in unemployment and homelessness. With the current unemployment rate at around 7%, and youth unemployment at double this rate, poverty is shaping as a major concern in coming years. JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments are playing their part in alleviating the burden of poverty, but Government policy to reduce these payments does not bode well for those in need.

Brendan Coates et al from the Grattan Institute believe the Government has targeted its recently announced JobMaker Hiring Credit too narrowly, and they propose ways of expanding and improving it to assist take-up of new employees. They believe that, as currently constructed, it will cause distortions to the labour market, and skew job creation unnecessarily to low-paid part-time roles.

Sarah Puls laments the Government’s decision to cut support to 576 refugees and asylum seekers living in the Australian community. She argues that they are part of our community, and should be welcomed, valued, acknowledged for their humanity, and equal in dignity.

Rowan Ireland gives a masterly account of Pope Francis’s new social document, Fratelli tutti: brothers & sisters all, especially noting its critique of neo-liberalism and political populism, and highlighting the implications for public policy in Australia on social equity, treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and indigenous issues.

Peter Whiteford is concerned that the impact of the Robodebt policy fiasco is yet to be appreciated fully. Hundreds of thousands of people were affected at financial and human cost. While the Government has agreed to a settlement for those affected, which will go some way to providing compensation, in the future there is clearly a need to strengthen formal accountability and review structures governing such policy approaches.

The pandemic has focused community attention on public health and financial implications for the economy, yet the pressing issue of climate change has not abated. It is evolving not only as a climate challenge, but increasingly as one of social justice, as the impacts are falling disproportionately on different groups.

Peter Sainsbury is pessimistic about the responses adopted so far, and poses the question for his readers, Does anyone really believe we’re going to avert a climate catastrophe?.

On a positive note, Giles Parkinson, in his article Super power: here’s how to achieve 100% wind, solar, & storage by 2030, cites the work of a team led by Stanford University futurist Tony Seba, which argues that most of the world can transition to 100 percent wind, solar, and storage electricity grids within the coming decade, in what would be the fastest, deepest, and most profound disruption ever seen in the energy industry.

Richard Holden looks to a positive strategy on climate change from the US, with the coming to power of Biden. Should this strategy include a carbon border tax, as already under consideration in the European Union, Australia may well be forced into a carbon pricing regime and should be preparing for this eventuality.

In a recently released report, Deloitte Access Economics argues that the costs of failing to act on climate change are enormous, with approximately 30% of Australian jobs exposed to climate change risk and disruption. In contrast, delivering net zero by 2050 could add $680b to the economy, and add more than 250,000 jobs.

In a rich country such as Australia, we should not accept so many in our community living in poverty, with insufficient income to meet their basic daily needs. That so many children are affected by poverty is a scandal.

Governments Federal and State have committed to large budget deficits to stimulate their economies. Almost certainly, budget initiatives already announced will prove insufficient to enable the unemployed to re-enter the workforce rapidly. In looking at further budget steps, governments would serve us all well by prioritising the achievement of increased equality of income and opportunity, and by paying heed to the need for increased action and imagination in addressing the climate change challenge.

The revelations in the Brereton Report about some Australian troops allegedly committing war crimes in Afghanistan have shocked us into asking why our soldiers were sent there. Sue Wareham questions the decision-making processes repeatedly and misleadingly involving us in foreign wars.

This year has been a shocker for many millions of people, and Covid-19 is still sweeping through many parts of the world. At least in Australia, the pandemic has greatly eased, with much of the country approaching normal running. A great Christmas present is the news that vaccines have been tested, and will be distributed to millions of people in coming months.

May we at Social Policy Connections take this opportunity to thank you warmly, our readers and supporters, for your encouragement during such a difficult time. We hope and pray that 2021 will truly be a year of grace, helping all peoples work together for an improved future for everyone.

Photo bert knottenbeld. flickr cc.

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