Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Poverty levels unchanged for 30 years

Reading Time: 3 minutes

One in ten Australians are currently living in poverty. Despite almost three decades of economic growth, the number of those in poverty has stayed the same.

The most vulnerable in society – children and the elderly – are sadly the most likely to experience hardship.

Inequality has also risen, with the rich getting richer. The richest Australians now have 40 times the wealth of the poorest Australians! Evidently, the economic boom has been extremely one-sided.

A staggering half of all Australians experienced income poverty at some point between 2001-2016. Young people in particular have seen little income growth.

Despite the fact that working people create the wealth in society, we are not seeing the fruits of our labour.

These figures come from the recent report “Rising inequality? A stocktake of the evidence” compiled by the Productivity Commission, the government’s own research body.

The report chimes with what ordinary people have been feeling for years.

Despite consistently being told that the economy is doing well, one survey showed that almost half of all people said they had not personally benefited at all from this period of record economic growth.

How is it, that, in one of the world’s richest countries, millions are still condemned to live lesser lives?

The situation points to a failure of the capitalist system.

It’s clearly not the case that the wealth needed for governments to improve people’s living conditions hasn’t existed. It’s that governments have lacked the political will.

The chairman of the Productivity Commission himself, Peter Harris, said that years of policy tinkering have failed to help the persistently disadvantaged. “Perhaps simply shifting money around and doing more of the same is not sufficient,” he said.

The problem is that money has not really been shifted around at all. Wealth created by ordinary people has been hoarded by those at the top. That’s how the system has been designed.

While changes to taxation laws would be welcome, only systemic change can bring about the redistribution of wealth necessary to end poverty and exploitation.

The idea that people can lift themselves out of poverty via hard work is nothing but a myth. People are working longer and harder than they have for decades.

The real reason poverty exists is because of the profit-driven nature of the capitalist system. The interests of corporations are put before people. We need to turn that situation on its head.

In Australia, the number of billionaires has more than doubled over the last ten years. According to Oxfam, last year a massive 82% of the wealth created globally went to the richest 1%!

This tiny elite saw their wealth increase by an unbelievable $762 billion. That’s enough to end extreme poverty across the world seven times over.

A reorganising of society is the only way to eliminate this madness. Rather than prioritising profits, we need a system that puts the needs of people and our environment first.

This is the basis of a democratic socialist society, where the economy would be planned in a sustainable way to meet the needs of everyone. Wealth would be used to lift the living standards of the many rather than the few.

In this way scourges like poverty would quickly be eliminated.

A publicly owned and democratically planned economy would bring the big corporations, those that control around 80% of the Australian economy, into public hands and under working-class control.

For example, taking the food sector out of the hands of profiteers would allow for plans to be drawn up for the distribution of good quality food at reasonable prices.

A socialist society would also mean that the billions in profits from the big mining companies and banks could be used for investment in the jobs, homes and services, rather than further lining the pockets of the super-rich.

If capitalism can’t afford to lower poverty levels, even given 30 years to do it, then we can’t afford capitalism. Socialism is the alternative to poverty and want.

By Kat Galea


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