Media Release by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Strong jobs growth and targeted programs the keys to tackle hardship

Poverty summits and setting targets are no substitute for strong growth in jobs and programs aimed at tackling the causes of financial hardship and poverty, the Minister for Family and Community Services, Kay Patterson, said today.

She said that today’s release of the Senate report into poverty had clearly shown that poverty and financial hardship were not just about income.

Senator Patterson said: “There are a range of complex reasons why people experience hardship and disadvantage, including physical and mental health problems, drug addiction, problem gambling, poor education, domestic violence and family breakdown.

“One of the best things any government can do to help the poor is to create jobs.

“The Howard Government’s strong economic management has helped to create more than 1.2 million jobs since 1996. There have been more full-time jobs created in the past six months than in the last six years of the previous Labor government.”

Senator Patterson said hardship had to be tackled at its root causes with practical programs.

“Poverty summits, setting targets, calling for broad national schemes and seeking new definitions of poverty do nothing in themselves to tackle the hardship people suffer in the communities where they live.

“This Government is committed to encouraging participation by helping people move from welfare to work with such programs as Working Credit.

“Working Credit is helping 60,000 people every fortnight by rewarding them for taking the first steps back into paid work. It allows them to keep more of their Centrelink income support payments when they start earning their own income.”

Senator Patterson said the Howard Government had introduced new innovative programs to help people suffering major disadvantage.

The Personal Support Program has assisted 5000 people to transfer to work, education or employment assistance. Many of these people face a number of personal issues such as mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and homelessness.

Senator Patterson said: “The best solution for hardship is to have a job. This program works with people severely disadvantaged to assist them to the point where employment is a real option.”

The Howard Government was finding new ways to tackle hardship by prevention and early intervention.

“The Family Homelessness Prevention Pilot program worked with people whose history included domestic violence, uncontrolled debt, previous homelessness and poor social networks.

“Through partnerships with Centrelink and community organisations 90 per cent of people involved in the pilot were able to stay in their home or obtain alternative housing and there was a 50 per cent rise in employment and education activities.

“The introduction of Personal Advisers as part of Australians Working Together also reflects the importance of working with people to overcome their hardships.

“Already more than 100,000 income support recipients have been able to sit down with an adviser and develop a personalised participation plan. This is a pathway for people to move from their current situation into an active role in our society.”

Senator Patterson said the recent HILDA survey showed that Australia had a high degree of income mobility with 60 per cent of people on the lowest income moving up the income scale in 2002.

“The survey shows that people’s income and their wealth change with time. Only 40 per cent of those households, which were in the bottom 10 per cent of the income distribution in 2001, were there in 2002,” she said.

“This was also seen at the top end of the income distribution where only half of those households in the top 10 per cent in 2001 were still there in 2002.”

Senator Patterson said the survey showed that Australia provided people with the opportunity to work hard and reap the rewards of their own achievements.

She said new figures show that a family with two children is nearly $100 a week better off under the Howard Government’s policies than they were under Labor.

The figures from the Department of Family and Community Services show the disposable incomes of a range of families on different incomes.

They include the level of family assistance, income from wages and income support minus tax and child care costs.

Senator Patterson said a family with two children aged four and eight years, where the primary earner has an income of $23,381(the Federal minimum wage) with a partner who works part time and earns $14,613 has $97.09 a week or 17% more in disposable income than they did in 1996. That is $5,048 a year better off in real terms under the Howard Government compared to Labor.

The family receives:

  • $67.78 a week or $3524.56 a year more in real terms in family assistance compared with 1996
  • $47.31 a week or 63% more in real terms for child care compared with 1996, while the cost of child care has risen by only $26.23 a week or 18% in real terms.

This family also pays $8 a week less in income tax in real terms.

Senator Patterson said she would consider the recommendations of the Senate’s report and she thanked the community and charitable organisations for their submissions.