An illusion of equality

Robyn Roberts, Co-Chair Anti-Poverty Week Victoria and Executive Manager Victoria for Good Shepherd Australia and New Zealand shares her thoughts about poverty in Australia.

According to the Poverty in Australia 2014 report almost 14 per cent of the Australian population live below the poverty line including 18 per cent of children.

What many people don’t understand is that around 33 per cent of those households living in poverty have one person earning a wage. This means that there are a significant number of Australian households who are living in poverty despite being employed and earning a salary.

In her opinion piece, ‘Rich versus poor is the wrong debate’, former Howard government Minister Amanda Vanstone laments that ‘the rich’ and corporations are vilified by the media, despite their critical role as taxpayers that fund much-needed welfare programs.   She goes on to state “all this stupid rich-versus-poor debate does is stir up the politics of envy”.

Stating these facts and that a fair, progressive income tax system is an important way to address these problems, is not a case of ‘sour grapes’. Australia has a genuine income equality problem.

The vast majority of Australians agree. A recent survey from Per Capita found that most people feel they pay the right amount of tax and those funds should be put towards social support. However, the gap between rich and poor has been growing consistently since the 1990s, with women and their children, people with disabilities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people consistently disadvantaged.

There is an “illusion of equality” accepted by most Australians that the numbers don’t support – the wealthiest quintile owns 61% of the wealth while the poorest quintile owns just 1%.  Punishing individuals for their poverty only makes things worse.  It is not about ‘us and them’ – a more equal society is better for all of us. 

About Anti-Poverty Week

Antipoverty week is marked annually across Australia during October to coincide with the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17th.   During the week all Australians are encouraged to organise or take part in an activity aiming to highlight or overcome issues of poverty and hardship here in Australia or overseas.

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Robyn Roberts

Co-Chair Anti-Poverty Week Victoria

Executive Manager Victoria

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