17 September 2013
(Private Members Statement, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I speak about the importance of government investment 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.
While my electorate includes many affluent residents, I have also met those who are struggling to get by each day and who have little hope of making a better life for themselves or their kids. A small proportion of the population experience deep and entrenched poverty that continues over generations. 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 more 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. On 4 September the Minister for Family and Community Services wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald:
- Case workers ... work with parents who often do not have the benefits of education, stable employment, or strong role models. Many of the situations confronting case workers are the result of generations of abuse, neglect, and a deficit of hope.
- Crisis child protection responses can never address this situation; a much broader and whole-of-government approach is needed. The Australian Institute of Family Studies supports this approach. In 2011 its director argued for integrated family, community and education support at the International Forum for Child Welfare.
On 30 August Anne Hollonds of the Benevolent Society stated in the Sydney Morning Herald:
- The long-term solutions lie in putting resources into preventive services that help parents to be the best mum or dad they can be, and ensure all kids grow up in a nurturing environment.
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 Hollonds 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. My constituents know about the difficulties involved with getting their children into childcare or local public schools. We are working together to change that.
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. I call on the Government to work with the Commonwealth 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 overcome deep and entrenched poverty.