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Charities warns of emergence of permanent underclass

A group of Catholic charities, together with Anglicare, have said the Federal Government and Opposition are doing little to stop poverty, and if they continue to pursue current policies, a permanent underclass will emerge.

They point to the costs of essentials like health, education and transport all rising out of proportion to wages.

St Vincent de Paul Social Justice Committee president Terry McCarthy told the ABC's AM program yesterday that Prime Minister John Howard is simply wrong when he says people are not getting poorer.

"Over the last five years, the bottom 20% of Australians have had a weekly increase overall of 75 cents a week," he said. "Given that the costs that they have to meet, with education having gone up in the same period by 173%, in excess of CPI, health costs gone up in excess of 98% ahead of CPI, hospital, dental, public transport, all gone up well in excess of 100% of CPI. The simple fact is that they are just getting poorer and poorer."

Catholic Welfare Australia chair Fr Joe Caddy called on all political leaders, together with community and Church organisations, businesses and unions, to establish a united approach to break through the cycles of poverty.

"If the Prime Minister won't take leadership on this issue which is at the centre of our nation's identity and future then who will?" he said. "The recent Senate Report into Poverty and Financial Hardship was so quickly dismissed by the Government that it is clear that there is little regard amongst our leaders for those who are falling behind in Australia's otherwise robust economy and society."

Fr Peter Norden of Jesuit Social Services said that 30 years after the landmark Henderson Poverty Inquiry, Australians are faced with "a Federal Government in denial about poverty in Australia and a Federal Opposition appearing intent on blaming the victims".

His organisation recently released a study revealing concentration of poverty in particular postcodes or geographical areas.

"Our recent report on the distribution of social disadvantage proves that not only do the Vinnies know that there is a growing population of poor families in Australia, we know exactly where they are living!", he said.

Catholic Health Australia CEO Francis Sullivan said the Vinnies analysis is reflected in the reality that it is becoming harder for disadvantaged Australians to access adequate health care.

"It is completely unacceptable for a country as prosperous as ours to continue to tolerate levels of unemployment and deprivation which lead to situations where 700,000 children grow up in jobless families, low income people get sicker than the rest and the value of Medicare's universal health cover is eroding even for average Australians."

Australian Catholic Social Justice Council National Executive Office John Ferguson regretted that there was "little fanfare and limited media coverage" when the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee released its Poverty Report last month.

"One could be forgiven for thinking it was 'just another' report on poverty," he said. "Yet, this Inquiry was billed as the most comprehensive and wide-ranging since Sir Ronald Henderson headed the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty in the early 1970s."

He pointed out that the Senate Committee Inquiry ran for one and a half years, received over 350 submissions and travelled through the country's capitals and regional centres taking evidence. The result was a Report of more than 500 pages, but it now appears "dead in the water" because of a bipartisan lack of political will.

Charity warns of emergence of permanent underclass (ABC Radio AM 5/4/04)
Warning to government: act now or be prepared to live with a permanent underlclass (Jesuit Social Services 5/4/04)
Lack of leadership makes us all the poorer (Catholic Welfare Australia 5/4/04)
Is There A Ladder of Opportunity for 4 Million Australians? (Catholic Health Australia 5/4/04)
Parliament Leaves Poor to Face Daily Ordeal (St Vincent de Paul Society 5/4/04)
From the Secretariat (ACSJC Briefing 5/4/04)

Vinnies shocked by growing rich/poor divide (CathNews 12/3/04)
Catholic Welfare Australia: Fr Joe Caddy's press conference remarks
"Deprivation and Inequality - Another Australian Growth Story" (St Vincent de Paul Society National Council 11/3/04)
Political differences on poverty result in a lost opportunity for the poor (Catholic Welfare Australia 11/3/04)
Senate Inquiry into Poverty and Financial Hardship | Report
Senate committee calls for national anti-poverty strategy (ABC Radio The World Today 11/3/04)
The poverty cycle: a personal account (ABC Radio The World Today 11/3/04)
One-fifth of Australians 'in poverty' (BBC 11/3/04)
Poverty report reveals awful truth of a nation in need (Sydney Morning Herald 12/3/04)
St Vincent de Paul Society
Catholic Welfare Australia
Australian Catholic Social Justice Council
Catholic Health Australia

6 Apr 2004