It’s not asking too much…


That’s the title of the Salvation Army’s latest National Economic and Social Impact Survey.

Epithets such as “disturbing” and “alarming” are being used. In the light of our unwillingness to pay more tax, you might add “obscene”.

One child in every six lives below the poverty line in Australia.

According to the Greens fully 14% of single parents surveyed have no place to live: 7% are homeless, and another 7% living in the homes of friends or relatives.

Of respondents on Newstart, 5% are homeless and 4% are living with friends and relatives.

35% of respondents were unable to buy medications prescribed by a doctor.

More than 50% had gone without meals at least one day in the last year. 28% cannot afford a substantial meal once a day.

And so it goes. The impact of legislative changes putting single mothers with children over seven onto Newstart is showing up in the survey.

There is a major problem in rural areas where it can be more difficult to provide help.

The ABC has the story. Thanks to John D for sending me the link.

The actual survey is here (pdf).

QUT News (by journalism students) did a story.

Tell your politicians about this scandal, rub their noses in it.

Meanwhile the Red Shield Appeal is on this weekend.

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29 responses to “It’s not asking too much…”

  1. Moz is supposed to be working

    It’s just a pity that the Salvos are so keen to wipe gays off the face of the earth ( and “have issues” helping queers of any stripe, regardless of their level of need.

  2. paul burns

    Its more of a pity that a Labor Government refused to raise the level of the dole and put single parents on the dole.

  3. Liz

    Well, both things are a pity. There’s no reason why anyone should be living in poverty in Australia. And the Salvos attitudes toward gay people and a few other things show why religious charities can’t be trusted, for all the good they often do.

  4. John D

    While I can’t imagine belonging to the Salvos and don’t agree with many of their moral positions I do admire the work they and many other charities have done over the years and believe they do deserve support.
    What I don’t like is the way governments have become more and more dependent on charities to soften the effects of government policies. Ditto their use of charities to channel funds to the needy.
    Channelling funds make it easier for governments to put pressure on charities to shut up. It also creates potential problems if charity moral positions are affecting the flow of help to individuals.
    Homelessness and poverty are complex issues that won’t be completely resolved by small increases in welfare payments.
    Perhaps we need to talk about the barriers to providing more low cost housing and sharing the available work with those who really do want to work.
    Perhaps what I really don’t like is the way the Tony Gillard’s of the world want to push people into a workforce that is already oversupplied, particularly for some age groups and skill sets. It may offend the protestant work ethic but perhaps it is worth thinking about allowing those who can live acceptable lives on very low income to be allowed to do so?

  5. FMark

    While I agree completely with the proposition that welfare payments are unliveable low and more needs to be done to create dignified livelihoods for people in and out of the workforce, I don’t think the Salvo’s survey is particularly useful at demonstrating this.

    From my very brief reading of the report, it seems like they surveyed only a convenience sample of people attending the “237 Salvation Army services providing emergency relief and community support.” It seems very plausible that those asking for help from the Salvo’s are those struggling most. Therefore, it seems likely that these figures are an over-estimate of the levels of homeless, poverty, etc.

    The report’s methods section is very short, however, so it is possible that I’m missing something here.

    Is it asking too much to have a survey like this conducted properly with a nationally representative sample?

  6. Doug

    Anyone willing to stump up the cash for such a survey? the existing survey by the Salvos is useful in that it spells out just how bad things are for people who are not being sustained by an increasingly leaky safety net but they would be hit around the head if they were seen to be tossing large amounts of money for research

  7. FMark

    Sure Doug, but the people who are managing okay on welfare incomes don’t need to visit the Salvos. So even if welfare levels were reasonable, the results of this survey would probably still be “disturbing” and “alarming.”

    All I’m arguing is that this survey doesn’t actually contribute to the evidence base for the need to raise welfare levels. Which is a shame, because welfare is at unconscionably low levels.

  8. Liz

    Brian, it isn’t that I disapprove of the Salvos. They do a lot of great work. But, they also have some objectionable policies, which worries me.

    I’d agree that I’d love to see charities out of business, because our safety net was so strong. Ain’t gonna happen. One Melbourne charity I like is the Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda. They do a lot of good things.

  9. duncanm

    I’d agree that I’d love to see charities out of business, because our safety net was so strong

    Wow.. that’s a pretty naive statement.

    There is no way the government can assist everyone in need appropriately. Throwing money around will not fix every social problem.

    Charities pop up where individuals feel a strong personal pull to help those in need – whether it be homelessness, starvation, health, addiction, etc.

    If you want to see a big government failure, look at the plight of Aboriginal people in remote communities.

    The Salvo’s do what they do precisely because of their religion and beliefs. You can’t take those out of the equation.

  10. Liz

    Why can’t government ensure that no-one lives in poverty? Why not have a basic living wage for everyone?

  11. duncanm

    I’d agree that I’d love to see charities out of business

    is what you said.

    A basic living wage will not solve all of society’s ills.

  12. jules

    Sure … but the people who are managing okay on welfare incomes don’t need to visit the Salvos.

    Do those people exist?

    What do you mean by “managing ok on welfare”? Apart from mining companies I spose. Does that mean having a roof over your head, just paying electricity and eating 2 minute noodles 4 times a week? While never being able to afford a beer or even a coffee.

    Afaik “welfare incomes” are below the poverty line. Its hard enough living above the poverty line, I can’t imagine trying to get by on the dole.

    Let alone with an 8 year old.

  13. jules

    Raising the gst won’t help the people with the least money tho, unless those low wages or benefits increase to compensate.

  14. FMark

    Jules, I’ve lived on Centrelink benefits for periods and while its a pretty miserable existence, I never turned up to the Salvos. I was lucky enough to be a middle class kid and had human capital I could call on, but not everyone in the Centrelink office was as fortunate as me. So generalising from those who did need to call on the Salvos to me wouldn’t be reasonable.

    If you look at the stats, 80,000 people used the Salvo’s in 2012. At June 2012, 330,000 people were receiving Newstart or Youth Allowance. So clearly, not everyone turns up at the Salvos. I’m merely trying to make the point that if you want to make claims about the circumstances of the population receiving Newstart, looking at those who go to the Salvo’s isn’t the way to do it. I wouldn’t have thought that this was controversial.

  15. Paul Norton

    FMark @15, not all Newstart recipients are solely dependent on that payment. Given the current labour market, many people depend on a combination of Centrelink payments of some kind and income from part-time, casual and/or temporary work.

    To understand the plight of people solely dependent on Newstart, consider the following. The maximum Newstart Allowance with maximum rent assistance is approximately $625/fortnight. In metropolitan Brisbane it is virtually impossible to find a single bedroom flat renting for less than $500/fortnight, so a single person on Newstart will have less (often considerably less) than $10 a day for all other expenses.

  16. Paul Norton

    As some commentators have mentioned on previous threads on this topic, the state of the housing market means that attention needs to be given to the level of rent assistance as well as the level of benefits.

  17. FMark

    Thanks Brian. I suppose I have mixed feelings about the survey.

    On the one hand, I think the methodological issues mean that it can contribute little substantive to the debate (although comparisons to last year’s survey are probably meaningful). I don’t think a quantitative study where the numbers are wrong is particularly helpful in contributing useful knowledge. In this sense, I find Eva Cox’s anecdotal approach much more persuasive here, because the thick descriptions very successfully humanise the problem. Paul Norton’s simple arithmetic illustrates the problem with the level of benefits very persuasively, without needing to resort to a survey.

    On the other hand, the Salvo’s survey has certainly been getting press coverage, which to a certain extent means it has been successful. From a tactical perspective, you could argue that anything that increases public awareness is politically useful. Further, I understand the Red Shield Appeal starts soon, so presumably the press coverage will increase their donation rates. So from a purely political and pragmatic point of view, it is a useful exercise. I find this to be a difficult position to argue with.

    All of which goes to demonstrate the discursive power of scientific sounding findings. I think the lesson here is that it doesn’t really matter if the numbers are accurate: by having the guise of social science, they have creditability and thus the ability to “do things” politically. This cuts both ways of course; as climate-change denialists demonstrate, the progressive side of politics has no monopoly on influencing public debate through dubious statistics.

    I should point out my own vested interest here: I’m embarking on a career in social research, and want my research to be taken seriously. I guess my worry is that this kind of survey undermines the public trust in research in general, to the detriment of actual understanding of our society and public debate.

  18. Paul Norton

    Further to my previous comment, I think one of the demands that should be made regarding Newstart is to increase rent assistance to a reasonable level and then index it to movements in residential rents.

  19. Graham Bell

    I refrained from commenting earlier because I was so angry.

    Couch-surfing, doubling-up and all the other evidence of undeserved homelessness is there for all to see who want to see. We don’t need more surveys and statistics [ this isn’t the Viet-Nam War with its obsession with body-count and bomb-damage-assessments ]. We do need purposeful compassion and immediate, useful action.

    I would like to remind everyone that unless we take swift action to correct these monsterous injustices, there are plenty of very nasty organizations around the world which will happily full the vacuum we have created by our careless inaction.

    Cost? Which is cheaper: giving decent people in adversity secure roofs over their heads or trying to clean up the damage of ongoing civil conflict?

  20. Jumpy

    A lot of homelessness is due to rents being too high, Why?
    Because there is an undersupply of dwellings at the lower end of the market, why?
    Because A) The allowable standard of the property is has to be to high ( blame regulations and insurance ), or B) The ongoing costs, fees and council rates associated in renting a property are to too high to get any return on investment.

    If I own a home outright and want to rent it and make $0 profit, just cover rates, insurances, and maintenance I’m looking at $200+ p/w.

    ( the first house I rented with a couple of mates was an absolute shitbox. We fixed up the leaks and gave inside a lick of paint. Today that property would be uninsurable and unrentable by law .)

  21. Helen

    Damn that nanny state which tries to stop people dying in fires and being asphyxiated by dodgy heaters.

  22. Liz

    So, government should pay to build good standard housing to be rented cheaply to those who need it and subsidise rent for dwellings that already exist, at a much higher rate than it does now.

    It’s not that hard. It just takes the political will and money.

    I live across the road from an apartment block made up of 83 flats, all of it social housing and paid for by the previous State government. The good thing is, is that it looks great and you would never know it was public housing. It’s run by a specialist agency that can link tenants into the services they need. This is what we need more of.

  23. Jumpy


    Damn that nanny state which tries to stop people dying in fires and being asphyxiated by dodgy heaters.

    So that’s the reason ay? Replace one form of suffering with a bigger one through regulation.
    ( ps. I’ve never owned a heater , dodgy or otherwise, in my life. So why put my rent cost out of reach on those grounds?)
    Seems unintended consequences are nannys forte.

  24. Ootz

    “I’ve never owned a heater , dodgy or otherwise, in my life. So why put my rent cost out of reach on those grounds?”

    The world evidently turns around you, as it is simply all about you, your smartness, your achievements, your rights, your needs, your freedom, your live, your compassion and modesty.

    Now if only we all would adhere to your dictum, then you’d have single handedly slayed the dragon of poverty in this land, a feat no army could achieve.