Making a difference to children and families in financial stress and poverty

Social Ventures Australia and Brotherhood of St. Laurence

How prevalent is poverty and financial stress among Australian children and families, and what has been the impact of COVID-19? What difference could social security spending make?

This research brief presents key findings from a study commissioned by BSL and Social Ventures Australia and undertaken at the Centre for Social Research and Methods at the Australian National University.

At a glance

  • Inadequate social security payments play a large role in shaping poverty and financial stress trends in Australia.
  • By 2017, two-thirds (66%) of children in families whose main source of income was Newstart (now JobSeeker Payment) were living in poverty, up from 25% in 1993.
  • Single parent families have much higher rates of poverty than couple families.
  • Despite increased unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, poverty rates for children of single parents fell from 39% to just 17% as a result of the $550 per fortnight Coronavirus Supplement.
  • Modelling shows that increasing overall social security spending by up to 20% would yield strong benefits in reducing poverty and financial stress when targeted towards working age payments, reducing poverty rates for the recipients by up to 75%.

Dive deeper

The ANU study modelled

  • Australian trends in poverty, child poverty and financial stress for families relying on income support
  • the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting income support changes on poverty and child poverty rates
  • the optimal level of income support required to reduce poverty and financial stress for families and children in the most cost-effective way.

Study report

Detailed findings are available in:

Phillips, B & Narayanan, V 2021, Financial stress and social security settings in Australia , ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University, Canberra.

Last updated on 9 February 2023