Re­port: No magic for­mula to solv­ing poverty

Central Leader - - OPINION -

Why do some low in­come fam­i­lies say their in­come is enough and oth­ers think it isn’t?

The So­cial Pol­icy Eval­u­a­tion and Re­search Unit (pre­vi­ously the Fam­ily Com­mis­sion) in­ter­viewed 72 poor peo­ple to find out, search­ing for the magic for­mula al­low­ing fam­i­lies to live sus­tain­ably on a pit­tance.

Sadly, the study of peo­ple with at least one child and house­hold in­come of be­tween $22,000 and $55,000 a year be­fore tax (more than half brought in $40,000 or less), found there was no magic for­mula.

In fact, I am sorry to say that many of the ‘‘Low In­come 72’’ who said their in­come was ‘‘enough’’ also said they had times where it was ‘‘not enough’’.

Enough means hav­ing a few beans set aside against in­evitable but un­pre­dictable ex­tra ex­penses like bro­ken teeth, car break­downs, ill­ness, shifts of ac­com­mo­da­tion, etc.

What the study found was that low-in­come fam­i­lies are ex­perts at scrimp­ing, sav­ing and mak­ing do.

They hunt for clothes in op shops, eat cheap food, train them­selves to go with­out, skip meals … the kind of aw­ful, stress­ful, grind­ing go­ing with­out and mak­ing do with less that are the hall­marks of be­ing on a low in­come.

The study found no as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween at­ti­tudes to debt and re­ported in­come suf­fi­ciency.

And it didn’t look like fam­i­lies that said their in­come wasn’t enough lacked the so­cial and fam­ily net­works the poor rely on to get through the hard times.

But the re­port pro­vided some use­ful in­sights.

It said fam­i­lies with regular, pre­dictable low in­comes were more likely to say their in­come was enough.

The ‘‘ir­reg­u­lar con­tract/tem­po­rary work’’ im­posed by our ‘‘flex­i­ble’’ labour mar­ket has made life hard for many, leav­ing them un­able to pre­dict their hours and in­come.

Peo­ple with bet­ter fi­nan­cial man­age­ment skills were more likely to say their in­come was enough.

But for me there’s an­other mes­sage in the voices of the Low In­come 72, and I hear in them the cry for cul­tural rev­o­lu­tions on sev­eral fronts which would make life, and get­ting ahead, that lit­tle bit eas­ier for those on lower in­comes.

One par­ent re­ported her child had hid­den a birth­day in­vi­ta­tion from her be­cause the child knew the fam­ily couldn’t af­ford the birth­day present.

Bless that child for her good­ness and char­ac­ter.

But re­mem­ber, it’s not so long ago that the only thing a child ex­pected from an­other at a party was help eat­ing the birth­day cake. No-one felt poorer for it. Christ­mas puts sim­i­lar stress on those with low in­comes, the Low In­come 72 said.

It’s mad that Christ­mas can be al­lowed to eat the sav­ings fam­i­lies need to cope with emer­gen­cies so roll on the counter-Christ­mas cul­tural revo­lu­tion.

And then there are the lav­ish wed­dings and fu­ner­als that blight some house­holds’ fi­nances and the tithing to fam­ily and church while the fridge is bare.

Cul­tural revo­lu­tion comes from peo­ple who have had enough of cul­tural norms that are hurt­ing them and those they love.

One of the Low In­come 72 talked about their sis­ter who ‘‘got her­self set up first with a house and a job be­fore tithing to other fam­ily mem­bers’’.

Many, the com­mis­sion re­ported, felt that more should be like her.

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