CEDA launches latest research, Disrupting disadvantage: setting the scene

One in six Australian children live in income poverty, CEDA Chief Economist, Jarrod Ball, has told a CEDA audience in Sydney at the New South Wales launch of CEDA’s latest research, Disrupting disadvantage: setting the scene.

Reflecting on results from CEDA’s Community Pulse survey in 2018, Mr Ball said that approximately 80 per cent of people were concerned with the gap between rich and poor.

Disrupting Disadvantage: setting the scene is the first in a series of reports on better connecting disadvantaged Australians to economic opportunity and wellbeing,” he said.

“The success of Australia’s economy means that we should be able to provide opportunities more broadly, lifting our economic potential, reinforcing social cohesion and underpinning wellbeing.

“Australia certainly does much better than other advanced economies. There is our much-lauded egalitarian nature, our social safety net, broadly based increases in incomes until the middle of this decade.”

He said that despite this, there are still high levels of disadvantage experienced by Australians.

“There are 700,000 Australians who have been in income poverty continuously for at least four years,” he said.

“One million people experiencing deep social exclusion in Australia.

“As a country we are on track in just three of seven areas in closing the gap between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians.

“460,000 people have relied on Newstart for over a year – a payment, which at $280 a week falls $150 short of the poverty line.

“140,000 people were on public housing waiting lists at last count.

“These headline numbers are not the ones economic commentators usually focus on, but we should be paying a lot more attention to them.

“We should never forget that behind these numbers are the lives of people trying to access an acceptable standard of living and a sense of wellbeing.”

Mr Ball said that disadvantage was a complex, multifaceted issue encompassing material deprivation and social exclusion.

“It encompasses unemployment, chronic disease, disability, mental health, trauma, addiction, among other factors,” he said.

“Often people are navigating difficult life transitions or transitions between different institutional settings.

“The public debate is often sympathetic but over-estimates individual capacity to exit disadvantage.

“Some of the policies that are essential to our safety net have failed to keep pace with economic circumstances and community expectations.

“The weight of evidence shows that the current rate of Newstart is increasing rather than mitigating the risk of recipients becoming stuck in disadvantage.

“Public housing has failed to keep pace with population growth, forcing more and more vulnerable households into the private rental market.

“At the same time, Commonwealth Rent Assistance has not kept pace with rents over the past two decades.

“This critical failure in affordable housing for low income households has long been a concern for CEDA, with concerns raised as far back as 2000.”

Budgetary and political cycles have seen a revolving door of new initiatives and reviews, according to Mr Ball, with extra failures in putting in place the right data, evaluation processes and governance frameworks to manage risks.

“Despite these challenges, there are new and emerging examples of approaches to disadvantage that are making inroads,” he said.

“An essential ingredient must be better integrated government datasets and analytics.

“But recent experience with data in the welfare space has not gone smoothly.

“Robodebt has eroded trust and heightened perceptions that digital technologies are more about ensuring compliance than better lives.

“We propose that integrated government datasets are used with the intention of making peoples’ lives better and providing them with necessary support.

“For many years such datasets have almost been utopian – potentially game changing, but ever elusive across bureaucracies, let alone levels of government.

“That was until the New South Wales Government’s Their Futures Matter program linked longitudinal administrative datasets over three years.

“The dataset from 1990 onwards identifies vulnerable groups of young people based on the outcome domains like home, health and education.

“The Government is focused on two populations – vulnerable children aged zero to five and children and young people affected by mental illness.

“It is early days, but it is beginning to inform service delivery approaches including NSW Health’s first 2000 days framework.

“If governments have the requisite information, that when connected illuminates the pathways that different lives take and how lives might be made better, then surely it is worth exploring how this could be used responsibly?

“Could it be used to target the right early intervention and support for those most at risk of getting stuck in disadvantage, right from childhood to avoid the complex web of services I spoke about earlier?

“Would this further bolster the knowledge of local communities and frontline staff on these matters?

“There are inherent biases in many datasets, implying a need for great care when selecting metrics for analysis.

“For example, an individual’s interactions with the justice system are likely to include a range of sources of potential bias.

“Individuals and communities must have trust in the collection, storage and use of data.

“This could involve custodianship of data by trusted local institutions and co-design in data driven policies and programs.

“Appropriate privacy protocols should be maintained but we also need to be mindful that mechanisms like de-identification are not always failsafe.

“Maintaining these safeguards demands a lot of government.

“Newstart, Commonwealth Rental Assistance and public housing are to me the O-rings in our safety net and as the weakest links at present they matter.

“All of these areas must be supported by better evaluation.”

Event presentations

Jarrod Ball, CEDA PDF

Delegate handout PDF