The Guardian • Issue #2029


Anti-poverty protest – Adelaide

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2029

Poverty is about people struggling, and becoming sick, less employable and ultimately homeless, especially if survival on “jobseeker” is involved. These were the stories of many unemployed in Adelaide who were protesting in Tarndarnyanggka/Victoria Square on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

When fresh food is out of your budget, which is the reason for Mel’s anger, this brings malnutrition which leads to the return of diseases like scurvy and other infections. This amounts to punishment when no crime has been committed.

Should anything like this happen in any caring society with a caring government? It is certainly happening in Australia too often to too many people. And in the last election we thought we had elected a caring government!

Another Mel, a PhD student surviving on the minimum wage in the cheapest of accommodation, where safety became a real concern, and the tenants were targeted by the police because of their profiling practices. As a result of being sexually assaulted by her landlord, apart from the squalid conditions of her accommodation, Mel made an impassioned plea for increased public housing.

Carl, who obviously was seeking dignity and autonomy, lamented that welfare was becoming a dirty word which he attributed to the influence of the United States. In fact, the “welfare system” could be seen as “hostile,” especially because of the often pointless “mutual obligation” requirements. In addition, it was recommended that “the age of independence test” should be abolished as circumstances can vary from person to person.

Tracy, president of the Unemployed Workers Union, explained fear now gripped many of her members, notably as a result of the proposal for a “points system” which could disadvantage many people over fifty years of age. In particular, mention was made of a $10,000 bonus payment to employers who took on workers under thirty-five. Under such circumstances, older workers, especially those over sixty, virtually become unemployable and may be forced into crime, for example shop-lifting, just to survive. Quite often, these people have been volunteers in their communities, helping others but today they are deserted in their hour of need.

Professionals working in the field testify to the suffering many below the poverty line endure, especially those who should but cannot qualify for the Disability Support Pension. Health professionals in particular are well-aware of people who have insufficient means of remaining healthy. Mental health, for instance dealing with suicidal thoughts, or dietary concerns, or managing an eating disorder, go unresolved because of the lack of means to access psychologists or a dietitian. The so-called “safety net” was described as being more of an “entanglement“ for people with urgent needs rather than a means of assistance.

At the end of the presentations, messages were drafted to take to the office of the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, whose electorate includes many of the southern suburbs of Adelaide, an area affected by the misguided neo-liberal, de-industrialisation process of earlier decades.

Those below the poverty line would feel abandoned if it were not for the efforts of the Anti-Poverty Network and the Unemployed Workers Union supported by GetUp. All advocate strongly for people who fall into the poverty trap, mostly due to no fault of their own. This certainly raises a question for our nation: Are Australians losing their caring society?

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