THE FACES OF POVERTY


A 13-year-old boy escorts me through a dark tunnel on the outskirts of Rockhampton. The confined space is littered with scrunched up plastic bags which have been filled with glue or paint and used for sniffing.


My young tour guide *Edward has been sniffing for many years. He doesn’t live on these streets he walks me through. He sleeps on the couch at his Auntie’s home, where five to six other people crash at any given time. Sometimes more.


Edward’s mother abandoned him and his siblings years ago. She lives a few hours west but he doesn't see her that often. His father died years ago, but he’s not sure how.


He doesn’t go to school and fills the void of his day by roaming the streets and sniffing paint or glue. Whatever is easier to steal at the time.


Young people like Edward are also stealing food and drinks to get through their day. 


Consequently, these children are picked up by the police and charged, even though they take the food just to meet their basic needs. This is the cycle of poverty.


It's estimated 15 per cent of people in regional Queensland are living in poverty. This means they are living on less than 50 per cent of the Australian median income.


Poverty is also determined by the amount of disposable income someone has after taking out cost of living expenses.


Essentials such as housing, food and healthcare become negotiable depending on how much is in the wallet at the time.


The statistics are even grimmer if you are from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background.


Unemployment rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in Queensland are three to four times higher than the rest of the population. They are 2.5 times more likely to be in the lowest income bracket.


The aim of Anti-Poverty Week is to highlight these issues, and to encourage research, discussion and action to find solutions.


*Edward is not his real name.


Originally published on ABC Open and screened on ABC TV.

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