One in eight adults and one in six children in Australia are living in poverty.* That equals 3.32 million (13.4% of the population), including 761,000 or 16.6% of children.

For a single person living alone under the poverty line, the average income is just $457 a week. For a couple with two children, it’s $960 a week.* It is impossible to stretch income this low to cover rent or mortgage, utility bills, food, clothing, schooling and all other needs, let alone be able to make plans.

Some groups experience especially high rates of poverty, such as single parents, people who are unemployed, renters and people with disability. This is because Australian systems do not provide adequate safety nets to support people who are facing disadvantage.

However, poverty is not limited to people who are unemployed or whose sole source of income is social security payments. Of all people in poverty, 38% live in wage-earning households. In 2019, 12.5% of casual workers had earnings below the poverty line, highlighting the role of low wages, under-employment, job insecurity and changing income in contributing to poverty.

What is poverty?

Poverty impacts people’s ability to make choices and live lives they value. Poverty can be caused by and affect many things: being born into poverty, income, housing costs, health, access to education, social connection.

People experiencing poverty may make ends meet by cutting back on food, energy and other ‘discretionary’ costs, borrowing from friends and family, deferring payments, relying on charities, seeking advances on income support, and incurring debt through credit cards or buy now, pay later (BNPL) for everyday costs.

Structural challenges such as inadequate social security, insecure work and low wage growth, and long-term underinvestment in social infrastructure (including social housing) are also key drivers of poverty and barriers to economic security.

At BSL, the following measures of poverty help to understand the various effects of disadvantage on people: relative poverty line ; Henderson poverty line ; multidimensional deprivation ; social exclusion .  

Poverty is a trap that anyone can fall into

Changes in circumstances – divorce, ageing and retirement, experiencing illness or disability, losing a loved one or a job, family violence, mental health challenges – have the potential to push anyone into poverty at any time. And once a person is in the trap of poverty, it is very difficult to get out.

The effects of poverty go beyond covering basic costs

Poverty can stop a person from living a full life of dignity and being socially included. People might stop going out with friends or family because they can’t afford to. A child might not want to go to school because they don’t have the ‘right’ clothes to fit in.

Because of this, poverty can quickly lead people into social isolation where they find it difficult to participate fully in economic, social, political and cultural life.

BSL and poverty

Australia faces significant and unacceptable levels of poverty and social exclusion. At BSL we want to not only meet the immediate needs of people and communities experiencing disadvantage, but also to make lasting systems change that enables people to live the lives they choose. Since 1930, our focus has remained unwavering: to shape Australia’s future as a country free of poverty. You can read about our approach to poverty here .


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Research publications and policy submissions

We listen to your experiences of inequality and disadvantage, research the social and economic factors at play, and propose policies that contribute to a more equitable and inclusive society.

Learn more about poverty and inequality in Australia

ACOSS, in partnership with other organisations including BSL, have created an overview of poverty and inequality stats for Australia.