October 30, 2019

Director Update - More than Homes

What makes it so hard to exit entrenched disadvantage?

Professor Paul Flatau, Director of CSI UWA and research lead on the 100 Families WA project seeks the answers.

Entrenched poverty and disadvantage. It’s a phrase we hear on an all-too-regular basis, but at a time where Newstart payments have remained stagnant for 20 years, and wages haven’t kept up with economic growth, it’s unsurprising. 

Our country holds the crown for having the second largest median wealth per adult; we also hold the world record for the longest uninterrupted period of economic growth, at 27 years. Someone’s doing well out of all this, but it’s clearly not those living below the poverty line.

Last week’s report from NCOSS showed that in New South Wales alone, more than 100,000 people who are working full time, still live below the poverty line. A job is no longer any guarantee of being lifted out of poverty, and we know that many families are working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. But what about those families that simply can’t?

In Western Australia, we are part of the 100 Families WA project that aims to provide a way forward for those people.

The 100 Families WA project is a three-year collaborative research project between Anglicare, Centrecare, Jacaranda Community Centre, Mercycare, Ruah, Uniting Care West and Wanslea, the Western Australian Council of Social Services, researchers at The University of Western Australia, and families participating in the project. It is unique in terms of the role of those with lived experience and services involved in the project actively guiding the research design and presenting findings from the study at public forums.

The project seeks to answer the question ‘What makes it so hard to exit entrenched disadvantage?’ through annual surveys with 400 people experiencing hardship, and fortnightly interviews for a year with 100 of these people, along with the linkage of government administrative data

Underneath this broad enquiry are questions such as: What are the social and health impacts of poverty? What works in various domains of wellbeing such as housing, economic participation, health? What is not working? What historical life experiences are common among people that experience disadvantage, and how do they affect one’s journey through life? What day-to-day experiences occur for people experiencing disadvantage, and how do they make one’s life better or worse?

Results from the 100 Families WA baseline survey have been presented in the Baseline Report, the first bulletin examining the health, economic and social Impacts of disadvantage, and the second bulletin that explores the life experiences and hardship faced by those on Newstart and other payments.

Study Findings

One important result was the physical health and mental health limitations faced by people in poverty. The vast majority (84.3%) of 100 Families WA family members report diagnosis of at least one chronic health condition, with 68.7% reporting diagnosis of two or more chronic conditions. 100 Families WA family members report levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, measured by the DASS-21, which are substantially higher than Australian general population studies. Over two thirds (69.3%) of 100 Families WA family members report diagnosis of at least one mental health condition.

We also found that it was just a low level of income that was critical but also high debt levels. Over half (54.0%) of family members in the study had overdue utility bills, 60.5% had a personal loan, 39.0% had overdue personal bills, and 26.5% had a loan from a payday lender. The impact of debt on 100 Families WA family members’ health, wellbeing and overall quality of life is significant: 65.2% reported that they had experienced an inability to sleep as a result of their debt, 60.3% had experienced stress-related illness, 65.2% felt they were unable to do what they wanted to do in their daily lives due to having debt, and 43.2% had experienced relationship breakdown attributable to their debt.

Food security involves the ability to safely access and afford adequate food to meet nutritional needs. Only 19.3% people in the study experienced food security.

The 100 Families WA project is presently half way through an extensive fortnightly interview program with 100 of the four hundred families. This qualitative research program will complement the quantitative research and shed light on the journeys followed by people and the factors that influence outcomes for people spelt out in their own terms.

Professor Paul Flatau

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