What would it be like if everyone felt like they had enough money to live on? Imagine if nobody had to spend most hours in the week looking for a job they didn’t really want.
This was part of the focus of Anti-Poverty Week (APW) in 2021. Running from 17-21 October, the focus was on “calling on our governments to unlock poverty for millions of Australians by raising income support above the poverty line and investing in social housing.”[i]
This year, most of us have experienced another year of lockdown as a result of COVID-19. Interestingly, APW describes living in poverty as if living in permanent lockdown. It breeds dependency, severely affects mental health, takes away freedoms that most of us take for granted, and results in a loss of hope.
Living in poverty is clearly not conducive to human flourishing.
This was certainly the case with Vicky, who, along with her three children, was in and out of homelessness for nine years.
They had left a domestic violence situation and had come back to Melbourne to be with her family. Vicky soon learned however that rent was more expensive than she had first thought. She was able to stay with her sister and her two children, and then went to a housing service to obtain assistance in order to get into affordable housing. That did not turn out well though. “I went three times, and I was literally told that I didn’t qualify because I had a roof over my head, even though it wasn’t mine,” she said, exasperated.
Vicky then ended up in a rooming house, where she was in communal living for four and a half years. It was a very difficult situation though; there was a lot of violence. Thankfully she was able to come out of that situation and now lives in a rental and is working full time.
Now using her own experience to advocate for others experiencing homelessness, Vicky stresses that the emotional and psychological impacts of homelessness are at least as great as the material deprivation. “When you’re on one income, missing out on so many things, getting funding from the school, and government payments, it gives the children a label. There is a stigma; they feel different, and it affects their self-esteem,” she points out.
When asked what it would be like if everyone felt like they had enough money to live on, Vicky emphasises that there would be equality between people, that no one would stand out, there would be no discrimination, and children would feel equal to each other. It’s a noble goal, and one well worth aiming for.
Australian Greens Senator, Lidia Thorpe (who will be the guest speaker at the CBBC fundraising dinner on 17 February, 2022), is another person who has experienced poverty. Lidia grew up in the Collingwood Housing Commission flats in inner-city Melbourne. Her experience has inspired her to be a life-long activist.
The experiences of Vicky and Lidia show that people can be freed from poverty. But how can it be done?
One way is through the intervention of government. During the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns, the Federal Government protected approximately 3 million Australians from poverty by doubling working age payments. This allowed families to have enough money to cover their basic needs and to have secure housing. However, it was not only the physical assistance that made a difference. Children were also able to thrive and be healthy because they had what they needed to develop.
In terms of psychological benefits, stress on parents was relieved, meaning that some families experienced less violence.[ii]
Anti-Poverty Week is not just an Australian event. It is linked to a global movement and, in particular, is one of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 1 – Ending Poverty In All Its Forms Everywhere, talks about freeing people from the dehumanising effects of poverty. In 2000, the World Bank commissioned a study called Voices of the Poor, in which 60,000 people around the world who were living in poverty were asked what poverty meant for them.
The overwhelming response was that poverty is about experiencing a lack of dignity, a sense of feeling trodden on. It is dehumanising and an affront to human flourishing.
Human flourishing has been shown to result from another way of reducing poverty, namely the Universal Basic Income (UBI). The concept has caused some controversy, however the results of trials in different countries have shown that it has beneficial effects on well-being.
The concept of a UBI is not new. Shortly before he was assassinated in 1968, Martin Luther King promoted the idea of a guaranteed income for all Americans, not just African Americans. Even King however was not the first to talk about this. The idea had gained traction from others by the late 1960s.[iii]
Several countries have trialled a Universal Basic Income. Probably the most well-known case is Finland. For two years, from January 2017 to December 2018, Finland's government gave 2,000 unemployed citizens €560 a month with no strings attached.
In the Finnish example, the effects on people’s mental health seemed to be greater than any economic benefits of finding employment. The two were however linked, which led to an increased sense of flourishing.
Stories, out-of-the-box ideas like a UBI, and collective political will. These are some of the aspects that would give people enough to live on and would make an enormous difference to human flourishing. The aspects of CBBC’s Flourishing Framework®, such as basic needs being met, a sense of belonging to place and to others, and the ability to contribute, can indeed be met when people are given the opportunity. Stories such as Vicky’s and Lidia’s prove it. It can be done.