Are we all guilty of keeping quiet about Canberra’s hidden poverty?

20 December 2023

The ACT is home to the highest median income nationally at $1158 a week. Almost one in 10 Canberrans earns over $3000 a week. 

This relatively high median income hides the fact that 9 per cent of Canberrans live in poverty, including more than one in 10 children. 

It is easy to look away from the uncomfortable reality of widespread poverty among our neighbours, especially in the wealthiest jurisdiction in Australia. As we come to the end of Anti-Poverty Weeks, it is time for our community to take a fresh, difficult look at the extent and impact of poverty in the ACT. 

For people living in poverty, the rapidly accelerating cost-of-living and housing crises are creating insurmountable pressures. We also know that poverty has severe and cyclical consequences for marginalised groups in the ACT, particularly for people with disabilities, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Not only has the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the ACT increased at a higher rate than nationally, but the ACT is also home to the second-highest median rent prices after Sydney. 

Living costs in the ACT have ballooned to their highest levels in two decades. While this may be a cause of intense stress for even those earning the median income, it has devastating consequences for the nearly 40,000 Canberrans living below the poverty line. 

While the highest income quintile is spending 8 per cent of their income on housing costs, the lowest quintile is spending more than 35 per cent every week on housing. Canberra’s low-income households are also spending disproportionately more of their incomes on essentials such as food and medicine. Every price increase we see for these essentials is pushing people further into poverty. 

In the community sector, we have heard countless stories of households having to choose which essentials they can manage to cover each week. This is an indictment of our current social security system, which too often traps people below the poverty line. 

Both the ACT and Federal governments have major roles to play in poverty alleviation. Investment is urgently needed to redress prohibitive cost-of-living pressures, housing unaffordability, underfunding of community sector services, and shamefully low income support rates. 

When it comes to advocating against poverty, the ACT certainly shouldn’t be taking a back seat. Canberra is home to a diverse and generous community, with some of the highest rates of philanthropy in the country. 

It’s time for that goodwill and community connection to be channelled into advocating against the often-hidden poverty in this Territory. It is time for the growing awareness of the scale of poverty and disadvantage to be channelled into action and change. 

With an ACT election looming, this is a prime opportunity to demonstrate to policymakers that poverty alleviation is front of our minds. I urge all Canberrans to get informed about poverty in the region and join in calls for decisive action, including raising income support rates and ensuring everyone has access to safe, affordable housing. 

Opinion piece originally published in The Riotact on October 30th, 2023.
Read the article here.
For more information or comment, please contact

Devin Bowles, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0413 435 080 or 02 6202 7200

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