Henderson’s poverty line was developed in the early 1970s by Professor Ronald Henderson. It is the common measure of poverty in ausi now. There are two kinds of poverty, absolute and relative. Absolute is where one is completely unable to provide for his/her necessities. These include food, shelter, and clothing. Relative poverty is experienced by low-income earning individuals (Saunders 1998). Poverty is one of the major global issues. Jamrozick (1998) asserts that poverty is not necessarily a result of a lack of income. The income available may be too little to enable one to access necessary services such as food and shelter (p.132).
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One reason why the problem of poverty is so serious in many parts of the world is the ripple effect it has on other spheres of life. An example is in Australia, one needs to have housing for one to obtain a bank loan or even get a driving license (Causes 2005). Gender age social status ethnicity religion p.131. William and McMahon (2000) assert that changes in welfare have led to inequality and social polarization (p. 163).
In 1994, thirty percent of the richest people in Australia used 50% of the total income. For the 30% poorest Australian, their earnings were a paltry 10% (William & McMahon 2000 p.164). The main people in this poverty group have certain social disadvantages. They are the recent immigrants, the disabled, the sick and unemployed, the single parents, large families, and the elderly citizens (William & McMahon 2000 p.165).
Debate on who is to blame for the poverty levels in any country has gone on for a long time. Some believe that the structural conditions in society are to blame for poverty. In Australia, the main cause is said to be unemployment (Saunders 1998). Shortage of jobs, high transportation costs, and lack of affordable childcare has also led to poverty (Income 2005). Another cause of poverty is said to be low education levels (Causes).
Many parents with a low level of education are unable to educate their children to the basic degree level. This is a cycle that will go on until concerted efforts to make education more affordable to low-income earners are made. Jamrozick (1998) also gives an unequal allocation of resources as a major reason for poverty (p.130). Unequal allocations are seen in cases involving government funding. The government may, for example, fail to provide enough funds to build affordable housing for low and medium-income earners (Finlayson 1990).
In the 1890s unemployment was a major cause of poverty. The problem was compounded by the fact that some of the unemployed people belonged to the same family (Swain 1980 p.98). There were special charities set up to help care for the poor. One such charity was the Local ladies benevolent fund which provided grocery vouchers to poor homes. They also had a special fund set up to help distressed gentlewomen and the educated in times of need (Swain 1980 p.99).
In those times, hospitals and convalescent homes were a haven for the poor (Swain 1980). Foster care was introduced to care for orphans and ‘gutter kids.’ Gutter kids were children whose parents could not afford to feed them. In the 19th century, many referred to Australia as the working man’s paradise. This reference has been denied by some scholars today. Swain (1980) asserts that the problem of unemployment was as real then as it is today.
In 1601, the Elizabethan law on the poor was drafted. This law spelled out punishments to be given to the idle and the beggers in those days. People in that age believed, like so many do today, that poverty was a choice. They believed poverty as a result of laziness. The law however provided for alms to be given to the aged people. It also made provision for work to be made available to the poor who were still able to work. Since then, the laws have changed significantly.
The influence of British middle-class values in the New Poor-law was drafted in 1834. This new law required all individuals requiring aid from the government to undergo a workhouse test (Williams & McMahon 2000 p.166-7). The test was made difficult to discourage people from applying for state funds. The law was aimed at making the poor better equipped to help themselves.
In the 19th century, the poor were often viewed as lazy and inadequate. Many believed that it was an individual’s choice. It was believed that the poor could get themselves out of their poverty if they just worked harder. This society believed that majority of the poor could be classified as the ‘undeserving poor. This is because they were able-bodied people who could fend for themselves (Swain 1980). In the 20th century, we see the same does not apply. Many are languishing in poverty because of reasons beyond their control. There are those whose poverty can be blamed for their poor choices. These include drunkards and drug users.
For the majority of the Australians living below the poverty line, increases in the cost of living without wage increases are making life harder for them (Causes). There is however a class of people who do not want to get jobs and yet expect to receive unemployment benefits from the government. Australians refer to such an individual as a dole bludger. These individuals often get away with getting help despite their ability to earn a living for themselves. This group of individuals would be classified as the undeserving poor in the 19th century (Castles1997).
Charities are not doing enough to address the long-term issues of unemployment and poverty (Aneesh 2008). The Australian government provides health education, amenities, housing, social security, and welfare to all its citizens (William and McMahon 2000 p.164) The state has a welfare program for individuals with little or no income (Income 2005). These social security programs are said to provide for up to four million Australians.
The Australian government gives support to charities in form of both state and federal contributions (Aneesh 2008). These funds amount to 43% of the contributions given. There is a concept of who is a deserving and undeserving poor person. This will determine what kind of aid an individual will get. Jenvey (2006) reports that there are now 1.8 million people in Australia who could be classified as the ‘working poor.’ The high cost of housing and transportation has made it difficult for such individuals to afford a decent standard of living. The government can be blamed for this phenomenon of the working poor.
The government is charged with the responsibility of ensuring its citizens can get affordable housing. In the recent past, the government has cut down its funding on housing (Jenvey 2006). The direct result of this is fewer affordable housing units being available. The increasing fuel costs are having a cross-cutting effect on other sectors of the economy. Food and transportation costs are getting higher.
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Utilities such as water and electricity are also becoming expensive. The cost of living is going up but the wages do not match this increase. The result is more people are unable to meet their needs adequately (Jenvey 2006). There are still some people who blame the working poor for their inability to fend for themselves using the income available. This group tends to think that the ‘working poor’ lack adequate budgeting skills and hence spend money unwisely.
The blame game to ascertain who the cause of the poverty levels is in Australia is not going to solve the problem. The government needs to make deliberate efforts to make life more affordable for low-income earners in Australia. Various strategies like affordable housing, alternative power generation, and affordable healthcare should be provided (Aneesh 2008). In addition, every Australian child should be allowed to learn at least up to the high school level. The cycle of low education levels should be broken. Individuals must also live within their means (Cook 1990).
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