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Catholic Welfare submission to Poverty Enquiry

Catholic Welfare Australia will argue to the Senate Poverty Inquiry that "poverty is not a simple fact of life but the result of the way we choose to structure our society. We can choose to reduce poverty if we decide to."

Following is the Executive Summary of Catholic Welfare Australia's submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee Inquiry into Poverty and Financial Hardship. Catholic Welfare will be presenting it's submission on Friday in Canberra.

Poverty is not a simple fact of life but the result of the way we choose to structure our society. ItŐs causes are as elusive and complex as any other experience of human suffering. Still, we can choose to reduce poverty if we decide to. The primary influence on material poverty in Australia is unemployment. Ted Evans, former Treasury Secretary, shocked the policy community in 1993 when he said that we choose the level of unemployment. If he is right then we also choose the level of poverty.

The Catholic perspective is that the fight against poverty must enjoy a pre-eminent position in the GovernmentŐs list of policy objectives. This is what Catholic social teaching calls the preferential option for the poor. We can choose to focus first on those in greatest need and ensure their interests receive the most weight in the calculus of economic and social policy. We can choose to make poverty reduction a key priority for policy reform.

But we have not chosen to do this. The national commitment to the fight against poverty in Australia is tepid. This is partly because current social values insufficiently reflect a sense of solidarity for those in need. But it is also a failure of policy. Only governments have the fiscal and legislative means to approach a social problem so complex, so deeply connected to the institutional structures of our society.

We are not as rigorous in our efforts to reduce poverty as many OECD nations. In the European Union, strong and rigorous anti-poverty strategies are now being implemented. The UK and Irish anti-poverty strategies are far superior to Australian efforts to date.

This will cost us. Entrenched poverty flows primarily from long-term unemployment. A systematic approach to reducing unemployment and moving persons from welfare to work will increase participation in the labour market considerably. This will lead to higher GDP per capita. It will also improve the wellbeing of all Australians by improving social cohesiveness. So an effective National Strategy for Poverty Alleviation will raise the average living standards in this nation.

A summit into poverty should be convened urgently to build consensus for social change. A National Strategy for Poverty Alleviation must be formulated, including numerical targets to significantly reduce poverty. A statutory Commission for Poverty Reduction should be created to ensure that measurement of policy is rigorous and apolitical, and to provide independent advice on performance against policy commitments.

All levels of Government have a role to play in the fight against poverty. Therefore mechanisms to ensure the Federal model serves this Strategy must be put in place.

We need to create a social and economic environment that proofs the nation against poverty, reducing the risk of economic disadvantage becoming socially entrenched. It will take at least 30 years to implement. Still, when implemented, our kids will be living in a better Australia.

CWA : Submission

17 Jun 2003