New data has revealed that around 1 in 8 Australian adults and 1 in 6 children live in poverty. I am the sole parent of a three year old girl and we live below the poverty line.
I work casual most of the week, go to college, and my daughter goes to daycare. I juggle all the responsibilities and wear all the hats, and I do my best to give my daughter a decent life despite the rising cost of living.
I remember being relieved when I read about the upbringing of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the son of a single parent and brought up in public accommodation. I was sure he would be a catalyst for change when he experienced it himself, but millions of us are still waiting for a lifeline to be thrown at them.
I wonder how many other Australians are suffering in silence – pretending to be fine as they struggle to put food on the table. We are entitled to help, but I often think I’m going to take help away from someone who “deserves” more help – which shouldn’t be the case. Sometimes it’s the perceived judgment I might face that is the biggest obstacle.
Do the six-figure salary politicians who make decisions for those of us living in poverty know what it’s like to be stuck in this insurmountable cycle? Do they know what it’s like to go to the GP and have to sacrifice grocery money to access healthcare? Have they ever felt the glare of angry shoppers who were blocked because their card was declined at checkout and they had to decide which items could be returned? Do they stay awake at night and think about the fact that a bad luck episode could lead them to homelessness for themselves and their children? Do they also spend their free time looking for perks or discounts that could ease the cost of living?
I knew being a single mom was going to be tough, but nothing could have prepared me for the challenges that lay ahead. I was in a relationship and pregnant when my daughter’s father became unfaithful and then decided to leave the country. I had been working full time for five years and had acquired two qualifications during that time, but with single parenthood on the horizon I knew I had to upgrade if we were to live in safety, so with a six month old child on my hip I started studying for a bachelor’s degree.
For the first few months of my daughter’s life, I had the choice of renting alone with a newborn or moving out and having support, so we moved with my family to a coastal town in New Wales. from South.
The Black Summer bushfires were devastating to the local community and job opportunities were scarce, rental homes were limited as others had been displaced and the lack of childcare forced us to return to town and stay with friends.
It was during this time that Covid-19 made its way to Australia and none of us knew what pandemic life would be like. Rental prices have started to climb. I remember giving Centrelink income statements to estate agents only to be told that I would not be accepted because the rental price was over 30% of my income. I tried to explain that we needed accommodation, I was applying for the cheapest properties available and had no other options, but it was no use.
By attending job interviews and finding daycare, I eventually managed to find a private rental that made up about 50% of my income at the time, but at least we weren’t homeless. Social housing was not an option because the wait in our region is five to ten years. Apps should probably come with a “Hang in there baby!” cat hanging on a branch poster to help you through limbo 10 years.
I hope to complete my studies within the next three years and obtain a full-time job, but I fear that the emotional, physical and mental health effects of our current situation will hamper my ability to study and perform weeks unpaid practical experience – yet this is our ticket out of poverty.
No matter what you think of the millions of us affected or how we ended up here, no one should turn a blind eye to this crisis. Australian children shouldn’t have to suffer financial stress from their parents or go to school with an empty lunch box. The grim statistics on children and adults living in poverty are alarming, and it makes no sense to deny people adequate public housing and housing assistance that reflects the current market and region in which they live.
Address the long-term effects of poverty, such as increased mental health problems (e.g. depression and substance abuse), deterioration of health, lack of education, and the likelihood that poverty becomes intergenerational, will cost Australia much more in the long run.