Community Sector marks the end of Anti-Poverty Weeks 2023
31 October 2023
This year, Anti-Poverty Week (APW) was held across Australia from 15 to 27 October 2022. APW was co-chaired in the ACT by the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) and VolunteeringACT and was a time for the community to learn more about the causes and realities of poverty and take collective action against disadvantage.
Several events and campaigns were organised in the ACT, including a free community lunch, barbecues run by community organisations, Telstra Tower lit in blue, a media conference, and collaborations with co-occurring events. Canberrans were called upon to get informed about poverty and disadvantage in the Territory and take action to make change.
This year we were lucky to have a number of excellent ambassadors for APW including Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP, Hannah Andrevski (CEO, Roundabout Canberra), Mohammed Ali (President of HelpingACT), Travis Gilbert (CEO, ACT Shelter), and Travis Ngatuere (Manager of Youth and Young Adults, St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn).
Image description: Five people smiling standing outside the Canberra Food Co-op holding APW posters outside the free community lunch event for APW
Travis Gilbert, CEO of ACT Shelter, said: “We see the damage that poverty does, particularly to children. It means missing out on the basics that other kids take for granted. It contributes to lower educational attainment and that means that people are less likely to do as well, and therefore less likely if they have children to accumulate the same level of assets. Housing is the single biggest source of wealth creation and transfer in Australia and if you are renting, you do not have the opportunity to create that kind of security.
“We know that according to the ANU you need more than $700 a week to meet the bare minimum costs of living if you are in a private rental in the ACT. That exceeds the Age Pension, the Disability Support Pension and JobSeeker.
“Rent assistance in this town covers just 20% of the cost of a one-bedroom home, and if you are a family needing a three-bedroom home – that figure is closer to 12%, and it keeps getting worse because rents keep increasing above the rate of CPI.
“What we are seeing is more and more households who ordinarily wouldn’t be anywhere near the poverty line requesting material aid. These are households who would be well above the median income in SA and Tasmania. But they are presenting needing help with everyday bills, and housing is a significant contributor to that.
“There is some optimism and hope that we can see the Commonwealth and the Territory Government maximise the return on investment from the Housing Australia Future Fund and also the Social Housing Accelerator money that is already with ACT Treasury,” noted Mr Gilbert.
Mohammed Ali, President of HelpingACT, commented: “Today many Canberrans are struggling, the statistics as of a few years ago found that 40,000 people are below the poverty line in the ACT. Our feeling at the ground level at HelpingACT is that the number of families in poverty has only increased.
“Of late we are receiving requests from families who are saying they have run out of food completely and still have five days until their next income support payment. This situation is unacceptable.
“Nobody in Australia, Canberra or in the world deserves this kind of plight. Despite affluence in Canberra, the number of people needing food and basic sustenance has increased. HelpingACT’s school breakfast program has seen kids without any breakfast at home. It’s not a matter of just healthy food, they simply don’t have any food.
“We have to work together. I urge the ACT Government to do more, so we can get rid of the stain on Canberra of being the most affluent city in Australia whilst so many people need assistance.”
Image description: Four people standing outside the ACT Legislative Assembly with an ACTCOSS banner for a media conference regarding Anti-Poverty Weeks 2023.
Hannah Andrevski, CEO of Roundabout Canberra shared Kylie’s story: “Kylie is a single mum with two boys aged three and five, and a baby on the way. She has always worked and although finances have been tight her family has managed to make it work, just. But her partner left her early in her pregnancy and she has very little support in Canberra. She continued to work as long as she possibly could but had to stop due to the imminent arrival of her little one. She’s entitled to government parental leave. But she now faces the daunting challenge of making ends meet and caring for her new baby and older boys, and with the cost of food, rent, petrol and other essentials so high right now and the overwhelming task of preparing for a new baby, Kylie faces an impossible situation. Kylie is not alone; her story echoes the experiences of many families right here in our community.
“In 2022, Roundabout Canberra provided safe, high-quality essential baby and children’s items to over 3,000 local children. This year we expect to support 4,000 children, but this is only half of the children in need.
“Canberra may be perceived as a middle-class town, but the hidden reality is different, as Kylie’s story illustrates. These aren’t just stories, they’re real lives, real challenges and real opportunities for our community to make a difference.
“As we gather for Anti-Poverty Weeks, let’s reflect on the power of collective action, compassion, and support. Together as a community lets creates a brighter future for Canberra’s children and ensure that no children in our wonderful community have to endure the hardships of poverty.”
Dr Devin Bowles, CEO ACTCOSS commented: “One of the chief impediments to action to alleviate poverty is that many people simply don’t know the extent and effects of poverty. This is especially true in Canberra, which has high average incomes that disguise pockets of deep and real disadvantage.
“Almost one in ten people in Canberra are living in poverty. More than one in ten children in Canberra are living in poverty. And this extends to more than two in five children in single-parent households. This is a real indictment on our social security system.
“The increase in poverty that our community is seeing is partly due to inflation, and the ACT has seen a higher rate of inflation than the national average in recent times. The ACT also has the second highest average rental prices just behind Sydney. Due to inflation, the cost of living is now higher than it’s been in two decades.
“The community sector is absolutely at the front line of the poverty crisis that we’re experiencing now. We’re hearing too many stories about people forced to choose between life’s essentials. Will I buy my medicine this week or make sure my kids have enough to eat? Alarmingly, while the community sector is often the last line of defence for people against the worst effects of poverty, only 4% of services think they’re well positioned to be able to meet the increase in demand.
“The Federal Government should dramatically increase income support payments, and dramatically transform the housing situation for low-income households in the ACT. In the 20 years that I’ve lived here, visible homelessness has absolutely skyrocketed, and we know this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“We need transformative change led by real vision and backed by transformative levels of investment. We also call on the Federal and ACT Governments to ensure more accessible and more affordable healthcare is available to all Canberrans, including those who are doing it tough. The ACT Government has a unique responsibility to fund the community sector to be able to meet the increased demand that we’re feeling right now. Finally, we asked the ACT Government to increase targeted assistance to households doing it especially tough,” Dr Bowles concluded.
For more information and resources on APW you can go to the ACT’s Anti-Poverty Week page which lists the events that occurred. For information on events in other jurisdictions and the national campaign visit the national Anti-Poverty Week website. ACTCOSS produced two factsheets for APW 2023: Poverty & Disadvantage in the ACT, and The Disability Poverty Cycle in the ACT (co-produced with Advocacy for Inclusion).
ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations. Follow us @ACTCOSS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
For more information, please contact ACTCOSS on 02 6202 7200.
For comment, please contact Dr Devin Bowles, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0413 435 080.