Poverty hidden behind ACT’s high averages

8 November 2021

A major report released today has highlighted the high rates of poverty and disadvantage in the ACT hidden behind the Territory’s relative prosperity. The Vital Signs report, published by Hands Across Canberra and the Snow Foundation, shows the ongoing challenges faced by Canberrans on low incomes or facing other disadvantage.

The report, which uses evidence collected from a range of sources, including the ACT Government, Australian Government and academia, tells the real story of the ACT through statistics around four key themes: health, education and employment, housing and belonging.

ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell said: “Vital Signs provides a comprehensive survey of the wellbeing of our local community. While there are many things to celebrate about the Canberra community, the ACT’s relative prosperity means that there is little excuse for the disadvantage and inequality highlighted by this report.

“Despite having the highest average weekly earnings, highest education levels, and the highest life expectancy, 38,000 Canberrans are living in poverty including more than 9,000 children.

“It reminds us that the ACT is in a housing crisis: a waiting list of nearly one year for priority public housing in the ACT; a shortfall of 3,100 social houses; the nation’s highest rate of rental stress among lower income private rental households; and a rental vacancy rate of just 0.7%. Vital Signs also highlights that women, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples and families with children are disproportionately represented among those accessing homelessness services.

“There are two key things they can do to reduce poverty for individuals, families and children: raising the rate of income support above the poverty line and investing in social housing.”

Dr Campbell continued: “While it was positive to see that 70% of adults in the ACT felt proud of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultures, this has not translated into significantly improved outcomes for First Nations peoples in the ACT. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to be overrepresented in our adult corrections, youth justice and child protection systems.

“However, the report shows some positive signs including high immunisation rates and high preschool enrolment for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children. These statistics are a testament to Canberra’s First Nations communities who are successfully working to reduce barriers to healthcare and provide culturally appropriate support. It provides further evidence of the importance of self-determination and funding for community-controlled services.

“It is also pleasing to see support for the view that Canberra is a welcoming city, including from those from non-English speaking backgrounds, demonstrating a recognition of the contribution made by migrants to the ACT.

“ACTCOSS congratulates Hands Across Canberra and the Snow Foundation on this important piece of work which provides a strong basis for identifying policy and programs to bring about positive change so that everyone can share in the benefits of living in the Canberra community,” Dr Campbell said.

The Vital Signs 2021 report is available for download on the Hands Across Canberra website.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.

For more information or comment, please contact

Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617 or 02 6202 7200.

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