Next week is anti-poverty week. It is both an irony and a tragedy that we have come to accept poverty as an endemic condition worthy of a week of focus each year.
Poverty is not endemic, but it persists because we have chosen for it to be that way.
In Tasmania, in 2021, we still have some 23.6 per cent of the population or around 120,00 people living in poverty, struggling to make ends meet.
Whilst COVID gave us glimpses of a living wage for low-income earners through JobSeeker, such initiatives were short lived and the enduring impact of COVID is that the poor have become poorer and the inequality gap is widening.
Now being accelerated by rapidly rising housing costs. Welfare agencies are reporting up to 25 per cent increase in clients across a range of areas - emergency relief, family violence, accommodation, mental health, dental care.
Pandemics brew inequality and COVID is no exception.
For example, in Tasmania the lower your household income the less teeth you are likely to have and the lower your general oral health.
Indeed, poor oral health is the largest reason for preventable hospital admissions.
The lower your income the higher your risks of premature death and the worse your health status.
So if poverty is such a blight why don't we fix it?
There are six reasons why poverty has been such a hard nut to crack.
Firstly, we have learnt to blame the poor for their own circumstances, they just need to develop a better work ethic and stop being indolent.
Because they are morally responsible for their actions we are not morally obliged to support them.
Indeed the more we support them the less likely they are likely to want to work and the happier they will be on welfare.
Second, if we can't always blame the poor (it's often hard to blame children for example) we can blame other levels of government for not chipping in enough.
Since federation the Commonwealth has blamed the states for inadequate housing and the states have blamed the Commonwealth for inadequate income support.
Third, its all too complex and no one really knows what poverty is any more.
Relative poverty, absolute poverty, median disposable equivalised household incomes and Gini coefficients it's all too hard to understand.
Fourth, there is now a plethora of other (related) ideas and challenges on the social policy stage all competing for attention.
Strategies around the early years, social inclusion, respect, the good life, mindfulness, resilience, trauma, mental illness, happiness, place-based strategies, collective impact - all lead to a crowded agenda.
More significantly in recent years we have locked into the rising tide lifts all ships mantra, sometimes called the trickle-down theory, namely that jobs, jobs, jobs will eventually solve poverty.
But the poor are still waiting.
Fifth, poverty has been 'projectised' so that whatever the problem governments can point to the last 20 projects designed to 'solve' the problem.
A housing project here, a mental health initiative there, an emergency dental program next week, resilience programs everywhere. It means we never have to add up the actual impacts or tackle underlying inequalities.
Finally, Tasmanians still die from poverty-related conditions but they don't die in the streets or on the front pages of the papers, or on social media platforms, or on our televisions so they are out of sight, out of mind.
All these reasons combine to throw a shroud over the deeply political nature of poverty.
What should we do?
As a society we now have the capacity to solve poverty but we still lack the willingness.
Step one as always is to understand that poverty is neither a choice nor a crime. It is primarily a social condition, a policy choice that we as society have made. And we as a society can unmake.
What it means to be poor depends more on us than on them.
The moral element is the sticking point, the deeply held belief in society that the poor are to be blamed and therefore we can sleep well at night despite knowing that up to 20,000 Tasmanian children are going to bed hungry.
There really does need to be a more serious conversation about why we can accept this in 2021 and then hide behind the plethora of latest initiatives as the solution.
Line of sight between the initiatives and a zero poverty target would be a good start, Bob Hawke was right, no Australian child should live in poverty.
Important matters in our society get displayed on television screens each night - the weather, sport, stock exchange reports. And now, COVID numbers and deaths.
Putting the preventable poverty-related deaths and numbers of Tasmanian children going hungry each night would certainly get the issue back in front of us.
During Anti-Poverty week the focus should be on reframing the conversation not simply another raft of projects.
- David Adams, University of Tasmania Professor