Child Poverty Can Be Prevented

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The NSW government must invest in early intervention to overcome deep and entrenched poverty, especially to break the intergenerational cycle and impact on children. Between 12 per cent to 15 per cent of the Australian population lives in poverty, and the Australian Council of Social Service estimates that 600,000 Australian children live in poverty.

The July 2013 report of the Productivity Commission entitled, Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Australia, estimated that 5 per cent of Australians aged 15 or over experience deep social exclusion, with 1 per cent suffering very deep exclusion.

Sole parents whose families rely on government payments and emergency food vouchers, families with members who have a mental illness or a serious disability, former prisoners, social housing tenants and Indigenous families are at high risk of entrenched poverty.

Unfortunately, a child from one of these families is likely to suffer social and economic disadvantage for the rest of his or her life. Some will triumph over this adversity but many will not.

The Anglicare 2012 State of Sydney report showed that children who experience multiple disadvantages are far more likely to experience lower levels of education and are more likely to be absent from school. They are three times more likely to experience mental health problems, are more likely to suffer from vision, dental, and hearing disorders, have asthma, heart and kidney disease, epilepsy and digestive problems, and are more likely to have poor nutrition.

The early years of a child's life profoundly shape their future. There is ample evidence that shows that early intervention and assertive support for families make a difference. This is critical for the first five years of life so that children do not start school behind the eight ball and continue on a pathway of poorer outcomes.

I am concerned about government cuts to budgets and programs that help these families and children. Ironically, the programs at risk are often the prevention and early intervention services that are geared to help vulnerable families, promote child safety and offer a way out of entrenched poverty. These services include the Welfare Rights Centre and other non-core welfare programs that deal with reduced access to childcare and pre-school funding. In the long term these services help to save government resources.

I support community calls for a national child poverty action plan, drawing on governments at all levels and asking that the New South Wales government lobby the new Federal government to achieve that aim.

We should have baby healthcare centres that provide home visits to help new parents. Anne Hollands from the Benevolent Society makes it clear that we need maternal and paediatric health services working closely with family support, mental health and early childhood education services.

Health resources must also help to prevent disease and support people managing chronic conditions, including education and public health measures. We need more health resources that target homeless people with complex needs, expanding on the great work of Neami National, Way2Home and St Vincent's Hospital Homeless Health Team. We should ensure all children have access to quality childcare and education, specifically helping students with special needs.

Better education means better health and greater citizen engagement and social support. We must provide secure low-cost and affordable housing. As former and current governments have sold or neglected vital inner city social housing, I have been working with tenants in my electorate who have told me how hard it is to afford inner city rents. Employment is a main pathway out of entrenched poverty.

We need State and Federal governments to work together to ensure effective job entry programs and that social security payments are adequate to help people get back on their feet. The Productivity Commission has identified that high economic and social costs contribute to families who are persistently disadvantaged, including lost income, lost investment, crime and reduced social capital, as well as spending on health, justice and welfare services. It also identifies the significant costs on people and families and the broader community.

It is time for all levels of government to work with the community sector to fund and support early intervention strategies to help overcome deep and entrenched poverty.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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