THE Australian Council of Social Service has urged Australian governments to develop an effective jobs plan as part of a strategy to reduce poverty and inequality, following the release of a new report revealing disadvantage remains entrenched in a number of communities across Australia.
Dropping off the Edge 2015, produced by Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services Australia, shows that although social support structures work for many people and communities, there are a small but significant number of communities that we are failing.
"These findings build on the picture that ACOSS has been documenting in our series of reports into poverty and inequality – a picture that is becoming bleaker and that demands a new approach," said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.
The evidence is mounting, across a range of independent sources, that current policies are simply not working for communities experiencing structural disadvantage. These communities are dealing with multiple, complex barriers to individual wellbeing and community participation.
"A recurring feature is high unemployment which was found to be a significant issue in 23 out of 37 most disadvantaged communities around the country. Particularly concerning is the high level of youth disengagement in work or study, as well as low education and training levels.
"We must find ways to address growing long term unemployment which keeps people excluded. This requires a jobs strategy which assists people who are unemployed long-term and have significant barriers to getting paid work. It also requires improving services and transport in disadvantaged communities to link these communities to jobs.
"With one job available for every five people looking for paid work, the biggest cause of long term unemployment is lack of job opportunities.
"The report found these are communities battling unemployment, disabilities, lack of formal qualifications, low levels of education generally, low family incomes, domestic violence and mental health problems.
"It is unacceptable that after such a long period of unprecedented economic growth in our history, some groups and communities have been allowed to fall behind.
"This was highlighted in our recent report, 'Inequality in Australia: A nation divided', which showed a worrying long-term trend in terms of both income and wealth inequality.
"We found that over the last 20 years the share of income going to those at the top has risen, while the share flowing to those in the middle and at the bottom has declined.
"The same is true for wealth, with the bottom and middle losing ground to those at the top. The wealth of the top 20% wealth group increased by 28% over the period from 2004 to 2012, while the wealth of the bottom increased by just 3%.
"We must take steps to avoid the splintering of our social fabric and entrenching social, economic and spatial divisions in our community. Deep-seated disadvantage and inequality should not be seen as inevitable. With effective and equitable public policies we can reverse the trend.
"We call on our leaders to work with business, the community sector and in partnership with local communities themselves, to develop and implement tailored solutions to build better futures. We must remove the current barriers preventing some people and communities from participating and sharing in our nation's wealth.
"This is the only way to ensure all citizens are included and able to realise their potential, and the only way to guarantee our collective future prosperity," Dr Goldie said.
More information about Dropping off the Edge 2015 is available from <http://www.dote.org.au/>.