Not Just Statistics: Making Children’s Poverty More Visible
50 % median income
60 % median income
Before housing costs
After housing costs
Before housing costs
After housing costs
Households without children
Households with children
Lone parent households
Youngest child under 5
Youngest child under 10
Youngest child 10+
Several features stand out: first, child poverty exceeds adult poverty on all measures, with the gap increasing after taking account of housing costs; second, housing costs are an important factor affecting the poverty rate of all households, although the impact varies – those without children (mainly older people) face low housing costs and thus experience lower poverty rates after taking account of housing costs; in contrast, many children are drawn into poverty because of high housing costs and, as a comparison of the estimates in columns 2 and 3 indicates, housing costs have a similar impact on child poverty as raising the poverty line from 50 to 60 % of median income; third, poverty among lone parent households is more than twice as high as among couples with children; fourth, poverty increases with the number of children but declines modestly with the age of the youngest child. With one-fifth of working-age households with a youngest child under 5 living in poverty after housing costs, the estimates highlight significant failings in both income support and housing policies that will have adverse longer-term consequences for the children affected.
Table 3.2 complements the results in Table 3.1 by comparing a number of subjective and objective indicators of poverty among all non-aged households, among these households with and without children, and among couples with children and lone parent households. The first two indicators reflect people’s perceptions about their poverty status and ability to make ends meet, while the next two capture ‘cushioning’ effects: the ability to enjoy an occasional modest ‘special treat’, and to raise funds in an emergency. The next 6 indicators focus on the incidence of events that often accompany poverty.
Comparing poverty indicators among non-aged households (weighted percentages)
All households (n = 1,999)
Households without children (n = 1,249)
Households with children (n = 750)
Couples with children (n = 600)
Lone parents (n = 62)
Indicators of poverty status:
I/we haven’t enough to get by on
I would describe me/my family as poor
Have not spent $100 or more on a ‘special treat’ for myself for at least 12 months
I could not raise $2,000 in a week in an emergency
Events experienced over the last 12 months because of a shortage of money:
Had to go without food when I was hungry
Got behind with rent or mortgage
Moved house because rent/mortgage too high
Couldn’t keep up with payment for water, electricity etc.
Had to pawn or sell something, or borrow money from money lender
Had to ask welfare agency for food, clothes, accommodation or money
On almost all indicators, households with children are worse off than households without children, and on all ten of them lone parents fare worse than couples – often considerably worse. The poor housing outcomes for many households with children are again highlighted, with over one-quarter of lone parents getting behind with rent or mortgage payments, and one-in-eight having to move house because of high housing costs. Both figures are lower for couples with children, but still high enough to give rise to cause for concern. Overall, the findings in Table 3.2 are broadly consistent with those in Table 3.1 in showing that the presence of children in the household increases the risk of poverty, although they also imply that lone parents are even worse off (relative to couples). Importantly, because the estimates in Table 3.2 are more closely related to actual perceptions and experiences they provide important supplementary evidence.
Attention now focuses on Australian evidence derived from the deprivation approach that draws on survey data generated by the author with colleagues (Saunders et al. 2008; Saunders and Wong 2012a, b). The surveys (conducted in 2006 and 2010) asked respondents to indicate which of over 60 common items they regard as being essential ‘for all Australians – things that no-one today should have to go without’. The list includes some items that relate specifically to the needs of children (e.g. a separate bed for each child; children can participate in school activities and outings) while others have clear implications for children’s living standards (e.g. a decent and secure home; presents for family or friends at least once a year; a week’s holiday away from home each year). However, it is important to note that the survey respondents were all adults, so that the identified items do not reflect children’s own views about which items are essential.
Table 3.3 shows how deprivation of selected items (13 out of the total of 24 that were identified as essential by a majority in both years) changed between 2006 and 2010 and varies according to whether or not there are children in the household. In almost all cases, households with children face higher levels of deprivation than those without. While this is to be expected for those items that relate to the needs of children, the same pattern is also apparent for other items such as access to medical treatment when needed, a modest amount of emergency savings and a week’s holiday away each year. The overall decline in deprivation between 2006 and 2010 is also somewhat lower for households with children than for all households. Even so, the fact that deprivation fell over a period that spans the global financial crisis is testimony to the success of Australian policies introduced in the wake of the GFC (see Saunders and Wong 2012b).
Selected deprivation rates in 2006 and 2010 (weighted percentages)