A report released today (14 Oct 2013) shows that the one-third of Australians (nearly 7 million in total) living outside capital cities face significant social and economic challenges that are often tied to the overall outcomes of their local area.

The report, A Snapshot of poverty in rural and regional Australia, shines the spotlight on poverty and other resource disadvantages that prevent people in country areas from attaining the basic standard of living and access to services that others take for granted.

Compiled by ACOSS and the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA), the report showed that rural and regional poverty has identified characteristics, including generally lower incomes, reduced access to services such as health, education and transport, declining employment opportunities, and the challenges of distance and isolation.

“The experience of poverty is closely connected to where people live and the local resources available to them,” the report noted.

A significant proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live outside the capital cities and for those living on low income the experience is exacerbated by specific cultural, language and life experience issues.”

How poor is ‘poverty’?

The term ‘poverty’ is used to describe those who cannot afford the essentials that most people in a society take for granted. While many Australians juggle payments of bills, people living in poverty have to make difficult choices – such as skipping a meal to pay for a child’s textbook.

“The OECD poverty line, widely used in international research, is set at 50 per cent of median income. After taking account of housing costs, in 2010 an estimated 2,265,000 people in Australia - or 12.8 per cent of the population - including 575,000 children (17.3 per cent of Australia’s children), lived in households below this austere poverty line.

“This living standard is a disposable income of less than $358 per week for a single adult or $752 for a couple with two children,” the report said.

Households living in income poverty in rural and regional areas have additional problems which often exacerbate poverty, such as reduced access to health services, transport difficulties, inadequate local infrastructure, and vulnerability to drought and other natural hazards.

The two peak community bodies launched the report in Tamworth where NRHA executive director Gordon Gregory said, “There’s a perception that somehow life in rural and regional areas is easier and cheaper, away from the stresses and speed of life in our major cities… however, we know that country life brings its own set of stresses that are mostly unseen and not talked about…

“People living in poverty in our country areas are missing out on opportunities and resources the rest of us enjoy, such as adequate health and dental care, good education, employment opportunities, affordable quality food and recreation.”

Mr Gregory added, “It’s time for our leaders to face the fact that for many people in rural areas life is extraordinarily difficult, with an unfair share of basic resources like income, work and access to essential services and infrastructure being the norm rather than the exception.”

ACOSS’s Deputy CEO Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine said, “ACOSS and the National Rural Health Alliance will continue to draw attention to these issues and urge our elected representatives at local, state and federal government levels to work together in the shared interest of improving the life opportunities of all our citizens.”