What can I find on poverty in Australia?

It has been interesting checking the stats on this blog. There is currently nobody stumbling across it other than people searching for ‘ICSEA rank’ related searches. This suggests that I am not the only person interested by the ICSEA. What it also means is that I feel good about continuing to publish things here. If anybody was reading the blog regularly then I would probably put more time into the actual writing. However, what I originally wanted to do was have a forum to rant about and puzzle though things that are not really exciting enough to include in conversation. While I still am not the master of an amazing sense of social skills of which I can be proud, I actually have caught myself on the cusp of a rant but aborted when I realised I could blog about it instead. This is a very long contextualising paragraph, but what this has to do with what I have and have not found on poverty in Australia is that the entire search is getting me so frustrated I think I better use this post as a circuit breaker.

So, my very non-academic tour…

Culture of poverty‘- they are different because their position of marginalisation has trained their brains and forced their communities to be different.

Possibly the most commercial application of this has been the ‘Bridges out of poverty’ packages. I have been very negative towards ‘Bridges out of poverty’, and perhaps need to learn more about why people seek to implement the programs. Is it because it meets the right ‘institutional boxes’ (community involvement, whole of community approach, it’s just about the right inputs- if we can give people the right inputs (retrain their brains) they will become un-poor) or in some cases become an orthodoxy in its own right? There is a tension however, because you cannot want them to necessarily be retrained to be ‘middle class’ because then they loose their unique culture (and perhaps stop consuming in the way that our economy needs them to?).

Place based/ renewal/ rejuvenation– the community has been deprived, so draw a geographic boundary around an area and pump in resources.

My uneducated impression is that this is the dominant paradigm in Australia and the UK. Give them a place manager, new fences, better parks, re jigged bus routes, community festivals, lots of committees, and lots and lots of evaluation. Now this is a caricature, but there seems to be a very strong ‘audit culture’ vibe underpinning a lot of these approaches. The idea is that everything needs to be measured and somebody needs to be ultimately responsible for everything. Committees are not used to determine the end aims of the intervention, but are rather part of the intervention. It’s not like real things don’t happen in the committees, just they are within a prescribed boundary. It’s sort of like putting a dog in the car and driving it to the park. What happens when they get out and interact with the park matters for the health of the dog, will alter the park in some small way and may shape the experience of other dogs, but the dog does not choose the park. I think that there are things that happen in renewal projects which need to happen, but I am very suspicious as to why there is so much written about what the concept of ‘place’ means in place based, how the projects should be evaluated and whether or not they should include tenure diversification. I am really struggling to find anything that looks at what the acceptance of place based approaches tell us about wider society.

Tenure diversification– mix in some people on incomes/ better incomes and suddenly the area is less poor

This can and has been connected with renewal programs, but is also a policy in its own right that has attracted some debate. Paul Cheshire’s 2007 report Segregated neighbourhoods and mixed communities is very critical of this. Melbourne seems to be including some social housing in what could be more affluent areas partly thanks to Rudd’s stimulus money, such as the snobbishly named ‘The Merchant‘ in Docklands. There are also redevelopments of public housing into mixed public-private in areas such as Carlton and Kensington. These developments are tenure diversification but are probably a good investment for the Department of Housing as they can use their land to help offset the cost of redeveloping some housing which badly needs it, at the same time as improving the resell value on the properties they maintain.

Welfare, wage and tax policy– okay, I think I need to do some research on this area!

I am not sure if this is a fair way to break it up and I hope to move beyond some of my assumptions. At the moment I have a lot of half read articles and books, so perhaps I will post this for now and then revisit it in a few days.


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