Poverty problem should be about people, not economics: Maitland Neighbourhood Centre manager

Maitland Neighbourhood Centre manager Naomi Rees.
Maitland Neighbourhood Centre manager Naomi Rees.

Governments focus too much on economics and not enough on addressing disadvantage in places like the Hunter, a front-line community worker says.

New data from the Australian Council of Social Services found that almost three million people across Australia live below the poverty line and the number of children living in these circumstances has risen by two per cent in the past decade.

Maitland Neighbourhood Centre manager Naomi Rees said her staff had seen a growing number of people appear at their facility in recent months, looking for help.

“Our team is seeing more and more people with complex problems,” she said.

“It’s just a mess. What stands out is the number of people who are either homeless or under the threat of becoming homeless. More and more people don’t have enough money to feed themselves or look after their children.”

Fairfax Media reported this week that the new figures had been released amid discussion about the federal government’s approach to welfare and disadvantage.

The data prompted ACOSS chief Cassandra Goldie to urge the Senate to reject proposed cuts to family welfare payments. In the Hunter, Ms Rees said she believed governments had become too focused on the financial cost of addressing disadvantage.

“It shouldn’t just be about what it costs,” she said.

“[The government] is always driven by an economic mindset – we need to look at the needs of the community. These are people we are talking about.”

Ms Rees said a woman had visited the centre this week to ask for help – she was homeless – and she lifted her shirt to reveal to workers her emaciated body.

“She is on a New Start [federal government] allowance but she said the amount she was getting wasn’t enough to live on,” Ms Rees said.

“How does a person like that save enough money for a bond [for a rental property]?”

ACOSS defined the poverty line as $426.30 a week for a single adult and $895.22 a week for a couple with two children.


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