The faces of poverty do not fit the stereotype and are not those you might immediately think.
A new comprehensive analysis of poverty in Ballarat tells a story of a new rising demographic living below the poverty line.
Rising costs of living, a tight housing and job market, combined with an often unexpected crisis is creating a new class known as the working poor.
More than one quarter of adults in Victoria living in poverty have a job, new data from the Victoria Council of Social Service reveals.
The VCOSS Every Suburb, Every Town – Poverty in Victoria map shows Smythes Creek has the highest percentage of people in Ballarat who are employed and living in poverty.
Of all people living in poverty in Smythes Creek, 27 per cent were employed full-time and 13 per cent were employed part-time, according to the analysis.
With more people feeling the pinch and the rapid growth of Ballarat, the city’s welfare organisations are under pressure to meet demand at their busiest time of the year.
Social welfare workers say it is immensely difficulty to focus on preventative measures to keep people out of poverty, when there is so much demand for an emergency response.
But Uniting Ballarat crisis support coordinator Naomi Bailey said the new statistics breaking down poverty in Ballarat would help the organisation lobby for increased funding.
“We now have the numbers behind arguments we have always made to show we are definitely a community that needs support,” she said.
“Most people have this picture of poverty of people sleeping on a park bench, but that is only a tiny percentage. It’s families sleeping together on the couch because they can’t afford a house and so many who struggle in silence and don’t present to services because they are ashamed and embarrassed.”
The analysis does definitely show Ballarat has a high poverty rate, and it is affecting far more middle income earners and the working poor than ever before.Naomi Bailey, Uniting Ballarat
Ballarat South is home to the highest percentage of people living in poverty in the Ballarat region, according to the VCOSS analysis, at 18 per cent or 3200 people.
In Wendouree and Miners Rest, 16 per cent or 1700 people are recorded as living in poverty.
Meanwhile, Alfredton and Buninyong hold the lowest rates of people living in poverty in the Ballarat region.
Salvation Army Ballarat team leader John Clonan said the new data reflected the stories of Salvation Army’s clients.
“Clients coming from Wendouree make up about 15.5 per cent of our clients, which is reflected in the report,” he said.
“Across the board the data shows a high percentage of people living in poverty are in private and public rentals. We can come to the conclusion that housing is an issue which puts people under stress.”
In some areas of Ballarat, people living in private rentals make up the biggest group living in poverty, while in others areas those who own a home with a mortgage make up the highest percentage, according to VCOSS data.
In Smythes Creek, 62 per cent of people living in poverty had a home with a mortgage.
In Ballarat, 44 per cent of people living in poverty lived in private rentals. The VCOSS analysis measures poverty after housing costs are taken into account.
Researchers used a poverty line of $353.45 per week after housing costs are taken out of income which is then adjusted to the number of people living in the household.
Shockingly, 17 per cent of those aged under 15 in Ballarat are living in poverty, the highest percentage of any age group.
Ms Bailey said inter-generational poverty was a concern in Ballarat.
“We are starting to see grandparents that were previously coming in, then their children were coming in and now their grandchildren are coming in. We’re doing as much as we can but those issues of poverty aren’t being met,” she said.
“It’s a poor reality. Many reports show children who are in poverty from a young age have poor education outcomes, poor income outcomes, poor health outcomes.”
Centacare Ballarat manager NDIS, homelessness and advocacy Virginia Louey said it was difficult to break the cycle of poverty.
“People who are experiencing chronic poverty just keep going backwards,” she said.
“They might be able to survive if nothing goes wrong… but all it takes is for the engine of their car to blow up and suddenly they can’t drop their children at school or can't get to their job.
“Just surviving becomes all consuming.”
In Victoria, almost 60 per cent of people in poverty live in families with children.
The data shows single parents in Alfredton are struggling, with 37 per cent of people in lone parent households living in poverty.
In Delacombe, 35 per cent of people in poverty lived in couple with dependent children households.
Meanwhile in Buninyong, 21 per cent of people living in poverty were aged over 65, the highest rate of elderly living in poverty in the Ballarat region.
All working in the sector agree the impacts of poverty are severe. Homelessness, food insecurity, breakdown of family relationships, poor physical and mental health, social isolation and chronic stress can have lasting consequences.
Watch the video on food insecurity in Ballarat below
Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King said the new analysis should act as a wakeup call to politicians and policymakers.
“This data provides a blueprint for targeted policies that will ease the strain and give people a fairer go in life,” she said.
“We need all tiers and all sides of politics to work together to combat poverty.”
Ballarat social welfare organisations are calling for the establishment of a food distribution centre in Ballarat and increased investment in social and affordable housing, as well as further funding support to meet the demand for services.
The VCOSS data analysis is based on the 2015-16 ABS Survey of Income and Housing.