Poor left behind as nation surges ahead

Research shows Australians doing it toughest have been held further behind over the past 20 years.
Research shows Australians doing it toughest have been held further behind over the past 20 years.

The financial gap between Australia's haves and have nots continues to widen, according to research tracking income support over the past two decades.

Australian Income Support Since 2000: Those Left Behind examines the prospects of people without paid work and sole parents compared to the wider community.

The study, which is being launched on Sunday to mark Anti-Poverty Week, notes median household incomes have grown 45 per cent since June 2000 with Age and Disability Support Pensions almost keeping pace.

However those receiving unemployment and single parent income support payments have been badly cast adrift, says ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"Those doing it toughest have been held further behind, making it that much harder to look after their health and families, as well as participate in the workforce," she said.

"Apart from the brief period when the coronavirus supplement was paid, the performance of the income support system during this period of robust economic growth has left whole groups of people further and further behind."

Professor Carla Treloar, who is director of the University of NSW Centre for Social Research in Health, says there's a clear discrepancy between different forms of income support.

"If it's good enough for the Age Pension to keep pace with broader income growth we need to ask why the same principle does not apply to support for the unemployed and sole parents," she said.

Since the turn of the century, Australia's minimum wage has risen 23.5 per cent while the single pension has gone up 52 per cent.

For sole parents with a child under eight, payments have risen 27.2 per cent but those with children over eight have received an increase of just 7.9 per cent over the past 20 years.

The unemployment payment rate has also fallen in comparison.

The percentage of people receiving lower payments who have a partial capacity to work has jumped from five per cent in 2007 to 33 per cent in 2021, while the percentage of sole parents on the lower JobSeeker unemployment payment has gone from zero to 28 per cent since 2000.

Australian Associated Press