The question of poverty
Everyday people in our own backyards so easily fall victim to poverty and the numbers are rising.
The Why Poverty? series is a global event tackling poverty around the world by international filmmakers with eight documentaries.
Next Tuesday on ABC it’s time for Why Poverty? – Give us the Money, which looks at the trend of celebrities, such as Bob Geldof and U2’s Bono, taking up the baton to promote fundraising in Africa, and the outcomes.
The worldwide themed event is from November 25 to December 2 and includes 62 broadcasters in 70 countries.
Why poverty? It's a good question, not only because of the prevalence of poverty in the developing world, but also because of the difficulties in eradicating it, albeit a less severe form of poverty, in first world countries.
The Australian Social Justice Fund this year released a report, Poverty and Inequality in Australia, and found that in 2010, almost 13 per cent of people in Australia are living below the poverty line, an estimated 2,265,000 people.
That’s people skipping meals, not looking after their personal needs such as dentistry, and unable to afford clothing.
Dr David Morawetz, director of the Social Justice Fund, says: “Poverty is defined as the pronounced deprivation of wellbeing, or the inability to satisfy one’s basic needs.”
People are more at risk generally in regional areas, says the report, especially in Queensland, where the rate is 19 per cent (430,000 people), due to the higher unemployment rate.
But it’s not just low or no-income earners that are feeling the pain.
A 2012 survey by the Salvation Army found that workers in moderate income brackets just had to have a short‑term run of bad luck before finding themselves in a cycle of poverty.
“Basically, respondents said their financial situation was severe and long-term,” Lt Darren Kingston, from the Salvation Army in Cairns, says.
“The reasons ranged from retrenchment to unemployment and inadequate welfare, and the report found that 33 per cent of people owe more than $20,000 in debts, with 14 per cent with debts from five or more sources.”
Dennis Higginson, counsellor from The Salvation Army’s Moneycare program, said he has clients from all walks of life.
“A lot are not very far from poverty due to things like unforeseen debts, and rises in rates and utility bills,” Dennis says.
“That puts them behind, they go into debt collection, and then they have debt collectors after them.
“It is not so much insufficient income, but normal everyday expenses.”
In the region, Dennis, who sees about three new clients every day and has a waiting list, says people are still feeling the effects of cyclones Yasi and Larry and have still not recovered financially from the subsequent decimation of banana crops, having to rebuild their homes, and the closure of a local sugar mill and other businesses.
“Then there is mortgage stress and increases in insurance and relationship break-up,” he says.
“The option of selling property is not there anymore because of its overabundance on the market.
“People are juggling expenses, and although it’s easy to get credit, then the bill comes and of course it compounds with interest charges, and everything gets out of hand and people become overwhelmed.”
Dennis has seen people neglect personal needs to pay their bills, including the need for food, the basis of life.
“They feel threatened by collection agencies,” Dennis says.
“For one gentleman, the only way he could get by was to go to the local takeaway and offer to pick up all the papers and sweep the footpath in return for food. That’s how he was surviving.
“Others are not having a meal every day.”
There’s a huge emotional toll for people who have paid their own way all their lives and are often in disbelief when they can’t cope with bills and maintain a decent standard of living.
Ignoring bills when they plop in the letterbox because they are sure to contain more stressful demands is a typical reaction, but it’s a dangerous avoidance ploy.
“In the national survey, of the people who come to financial counselling, most say they wish they had come earlier,” Dennis says.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are so many people in exactly the same situation and you are just not aware of it.”
Colleen Holliday, the diocesan president for Far North Queensland of St Vincent de Paul, sees all too often the kick to people’s morale and the sense of hopelessness from people who seek help.
One of the big issues she sees in the region is housing.
“There is a shortage of rental properties,” she says.
There’s also the general economic downturn and she says people go without vitals like food.
St Vincent de Paul runs a call centre and offers emergency relief, such as delivery of food parcels and payment of bills, and they have a home visit service, offer budget counselling, and operate 12 shops in the Far North.
Donna Mahoney, co-ordinator of family support at Uniting Care, says she has seen big changes in the past 10 years, but particularly in the past six months, with rises in the cost of living across the board from fuel to power; which is pushing families past their former limits.
“I have really noticed in the past six months, families have higher needs than before,” Donna says.
“They are living in small units, and the children might have just two sets of clothing so they have to wash every day, and they have limited facilities. They often don’t have the money for food.
“There are more people below the poverty line and it affects the children, not just with activities but also with things like having friends over, and eating from cheaper cuts of meat or eating food that is just not healthy.
“Transport in Cairns is not that accessible when you have a couple of kids and families are continuing to struggle to pay bills on extremely low incomes.”
The family support program at Uniting Care offers a one-stop shop for couples with children and lone parents.
Why poverty? Perhaps we should be asking, why poverty is increasing, and why, apart from relief agencies, no one seems to care.
ABC will broadcast five Why Poverty? documentaries from this Monday until Friday at 9.30pm on ABC2.
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Bob Geldof in Sudan. Geldof and Bono feature in Tuesday night’s documentary on ABC: Give Us The Money.