Poverty: the harsh reality of Christmas for many

CELEBRATING 35 YEARS OF FINANCIAL COUNSELLING: Anglicare WA Financial Services practice consultant Wendy Black, chief executive officer Ian Carter and financial counsellor Sandy Groves. Photo: Breeanna Tirant
CELEBRATING 35 YEARS OF FINANCIAL COUNSELLING: Anglicare WA Financial Services practice consultant Wendy Black, chief executive officer Ian Carter and financial counsellor Sandy Groves. Photo: Breeanna Tirant

With Christmas time quickly approaching it is often a difficult time for many families living in poverty.

One in eight adults and more than one in six children are living in poverty.

A single adult living on less than $433 a week, or $909 for a couple with two children is below the line, according to the Poverty in Australia 2018 report by the Australian Council of Social Service, in partnership with the University of New South Wales.

Celebrating 35 years of financial counselling in Collie last week, Anglicare WA, began its service in Bunbury in 1983, to help those community members who are vulnerable, at risk, and entrenched in disadvantage. 

The service has since spread to sites right across the South West and the rest of the state, with over 35,000 people accessing services across WA. 

Last year, 125 Collie residents accessed financial counselling and a further 56 accessed the service in the first six months of this year, according to Anglicare WA findings. 

Anglicare WA chief executive officer Ian Carter said national and state reports are now highlighting a core number of people entrenched in poverty and that it has remained at the same level in our community since the mid 1980’s. 

“When it’s winter and you’re really cold the reality of your life strikes you, and then again at Christmas time, particularly for families. The reality hits you when you realise all the stuff the kids want, you can’t afford,” Mr Carter said. 

“The difficulty with people who are just surviving is they actually don’t have any choice to make. They don’t decide between going to the movies or going to a restaurant because they can’t afford that. They’re deciding can I pay the rent and put food on the table for my kids.

The difficulty with people who are just surviving is they actually don’t have any choice to make. They don’t decide between going to the movies or going to a restaurant because they can’t afford that. They’re deciding can I pay the rent and put food on the table for my kids.

Anglicare WA chief executive officer Ian Carter

“Sometimes they can’t make it, so the kids go to school without having breakfast while their parents try to scramble money together so they can put dinner on the table. That’s the reality of far too many people in our community, and far too many children.”

Mr Carter said “instances of family and domestic violence spiral at this time,” as well as financial breakdowns and even after Christmas is over because often they have put presents on the credit card. 

“We talk to other charities who do work in this space and they see exactly the same. Welfare payments need to be appropriate for where the community is at now, they effectively haven’t been changed for 25 years and they need to be changed,” he said.

UNSW professor Peter Saunders said Australia lacks a poverty reduction plan.

“The Australian Government has joined other nations in adopting the Sustainable Development Goals, a framework for national and global development. These goals include reducing by half poverty rates for men, women and children by 2030, but we are a long way from achieving them,” he said. 

ACOSS chief executive officer Cassandra Goldie said the government argues that poverty is not a problem. 

“They are wrong. People on the lowest incomes cannot afford to pay for the very basics of life – housing, food, energy, health and getting their teeth fixed. Poverty is now a consistent feature of Australian life,” she said. 

“The solutions to tackling poverty are clear. We must lift the adequacy of our social security safety net for those most acutely affected – people living on Youth Allowance and Newstart, boost family payments for the lowest income families and index these payments to wages.

“A serious boost to social and affordable housing is long overdue, as well as an adequate increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance. A complete overhaul of employment services, and a commitment to full employment is essential, as is a guarantee of at least two days of early childhood education and care for every child, regardless of their background.”

People on the lowest incomes cannot afford to pay for the very basics of life – housing, food, energy, health and getting their teeth fixed. Poverty is now a consistent feature of Australian life.

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive officer Cassandra Goldie

The Collie Family Centre manager Sharon Thompson said particularly around this time of the year it is very stressful.

“It’s not getting better, with the cost of living increasing and a lot of people in financial difficulty already,” she said. 

“The centre has Christmas hampers but you must contact us and put your name on the list.”

To receive a hamper you must make an appointment before December 17 by calling the centre on 9729 9000. The centre will be closed from December 21 –  January 7. 

If you need emergency relief over Christmas you can contact St Vincent’s Collie for crisis situations on 9734 5664, Foursquare Church on 9734 3796 and the Bunbury Salvation Army on 9721 4519.

The Smith Family WA general manager Ian Moore said their Christmas Appeal also gives gifts to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them a present themselves. 

“Christmas should be a special time for families but for children living in poverty, it’s just another time they go without,” Mr Moore said. 

Christmas should be a special time for families but for children living in poverty, it’s just another time they go without.

The Smith Family WA general manager Ian Moore

“I’ve seen firsthand over many years now how much joy the toy and book packs bring to children who would otherwise be going without. We’re thrilled that so many generous West Australians continue to get behind this effort to share their Christmas giving and help these children look forward to a better new year.”

The Smith Family will be supplying 213 gifts to Collie children from ages of 0 – 12,  which will be delivered by the Collie Veteran Car Club next weekend.