Poverty. Economic disadvantage. These are not things we hear about so much these days as our political debate is dominated by other issues and party political point scoring. But they are the daily reality for too many Australians.
I was reminded of this last week while reading about the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968. At the time he was shot, King was in Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers over their terrible pay and conditions, including the issue of unpaid overtime. Sure, most sanitation workers were African Americans, but not all were and – consistent with his famous quote about not judging people “by the colour of their skin” and his other quote that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – King was putting his life on the line for people facing disadvantage and poverty.
It doesn’t matter what a person looks like, if someone is facing disadvantage or poverty then they need support. Government, business, community all have a role to play – but government has a particular responsibility given that one reason we pay taxes is to ensure that no one slips through the cracks of our prosperous Australian society.
But evidence shows that government welfare-to-work policies since 2005 have made the lives of particularly disadvantaged Australians – low income sole parents – even harder. Research by the Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods shows that single parents, whether unemployed or on minimum wages, with two young children would be around $6,000 worse off by 2018 compared with before the welfare-to-work policies were put in place.
This poverty and economic disadvantage exists in the Yass Valley as it does in most other parts of the country. We are blessed in our community to have wonderful individuals and organisations like Vinnies and the Salvos. But we must also look at the structural issues for government – welfare and tax policies, public education and health – and use our democratic voice to get our elected representatives focused on the very important role of looking after those in our community in greatest need.