Spotlight on child deprivation

A study exploring poverty and disadvantage among young Australians has found a significant number are missing out on items and experiences deemed essential for living a normal life.

According to many of the child respondents, the missing essentials included fresh fruit and vegetables every day, internet access at home, school excursions, family holidays and money of their own.

Researchers from UNSW Sydney say the study sheds important new light on the nature of child poverty, including its impact on wellbeing and attitudes to schooling.

Their report, ‘Material deprivation and social exclusion among young Australians: a child-focused approach’, was produced in a collaboration between the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) at UNSW, the NSW Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People, The Smith Family and the NSW Department of Education.

“This study represents the first attempt to measure deprivation and exclusion through the eyes of young Australians who are typically treated as passive and invisible in poverty research,” lead researcher Professor Peter Saunders said.

“It’s normally assumed they make no contributions to household income or spending, and that their views mirror those of their parents or carers. This report is grounded in and builds on children’s own views and experiences, giving a multidimensional perspective on poverty that has not previously been available.”

While the traditional approach looks at the incomes of young people’s parents or carers to determine whether a young person is in poverty, this new approach gives voice and agency to young people themselves.

The findings reflect responses to a survey completed by almost 2,700 NSW government high school students in years 7 to 10 and about 340 financially disadvantaged students in The Smith Family’s Learning for Life (LFL) program .

Significant proportions of both groups experience “severe” deprivation, defined as living without at least three essential items. About one in five (18.7 per cent) of the government high school sample and two in five (40.4 per cent) of The Smith Family LFL sample experience this.

Those experiencing higher levels of deprivation (identified using a new ‘child deprivation index’ derived by the researchers) were shown to have lower levels of wellbeing in many dimensions. These include overall life satisfaction, positivity about the future and connectedness to family, friends and community.

Australia is among the 193 governments that have adopted the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of reducing, by at least half, the proportion of children living in poverty by 2030.

The Smith Family’s Head of Research and Advocacy, Anne Hampshire, said the report, albeit concentrated on one jurisdiction, underscores the urgent need for Australia to be vigilant about tackling child poverty to achieve its SDG targets