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St Vincent de Paul calls for change in political attitudes towards Australians living in poverty (AM, ABC Radio)

St Vincent de Paul calls for change in political attitudes towards Australians living in poverty, ABC Radio AM, Story by Lindy Kerin

Listen to the full story on the ABC Radio, AM website.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: One of the country’s peak welfare groups has called for a shift in political attitudes towards an estimated 2.5 million Australians living in poverty.

A new report by the St Vincent de Paul Society makes 14 recommendations for urgent action, including a national jobs plan and an immediate increase in the Newstart allowance.

The organisation’s CEO John Falzon says Australians living below the poverty line have been made to feel hopeless, lazy and stupid and need more help to live a life without poverty.

Lindy Kerin reports.

LINDY KERIN: The St Vincent de Paul’s latest report aims to put a human face to those Australians living in poverty.

It shares the stories of 70 people like Anthony, who was working in New South Wales, but after a severe bout of depression and anxiety he ended up in hospital and lost his job.

ANTHONY: And as a result of that I was evicted from a unit. That eviction actually took place while I was hospitalised. So I kind of walked out of hospital without anywhere to go, in a bit of a dark place.

LINDY KERIN: Anthony moved to Canberra, where he was given crisis accommodation.

He says at the time his self esteem was low.

ANTHONY: A lot of the language coming out of the government was around people who are unemployed are simply not trying hard enough, not pulling their weight, and essentially they were essentially a burden and a cost to society.

LINDY KERIN: The CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society, John Falzon, says it’s alarming that 2.5 million Australians are living in poverty.

He says the political attitude and language around disadvantage needs to change.

JOHN FALZON: We have seen the steady demonisation and stigmatisation of people who are forced to bear the brunt of poverty and inequality in Australia. People are being consistently blamed for being forced to the margins of the labour market.

So we need to change the language, we need to change the policy that the language represents.

We need for instance to walk away from measures that are just clearly punitive and lead nowhere except perhaps giving some sense of therapeutic benefit to the welfare bashers – such as forcing young unemployed people to live on fresh air and sunshine for a month of every year. I mean, this is not going to create a single job.

LINDY KERIN: The report also calls for compulsory income management to be scrapped and replaced with an opt-in system and for the government to invest in a national jobs plan.

JOHN FALZON: We are seeing a complete lack of ability to provide jobs for the people that are currently left out and pushed out.

So we need to see government sitting down with business, with the union movement, with the community sector, with the local community and with the people who are affected, most importantly of all.

These are the people that have been left out of the whole process. The people who know the most about inequality and exclusion are being completely further marginalised from the political and policy process, and having policy imposed on them from above.

We want to see people who are affected actually having a say about what will make a difference in their local area to create jobs.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: John Falzon, the CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society, speaking to Lindy Kerin.

And a spokesman for the Social Services Minister Christian Porter has told AM the Government is committed to a strong welfare safety net, but if it isn’t sustainable, more and more people will fall through it. And he points out Australia is currently spending $150 billion a year on welfare – that’s one-third of the Budget.

About Vinnies

St Vincent de Paul Society is a lay Catholic organisation working towards a more just and compassionate society.

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