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Kids In Poverty Are Bullied More And Have Fewer Friends, Report Finds

Children living in poverty are more likely to be bullied at school or lack good relationships with friends.

A new report, released by the Australian Research Alliance for Children And Youth (ARACY) on Monday, has ramped up calls for increases to welfare payments to help hundreds of thousands of children and young people in Australia.

For them, poverty means much more than what's in their wallet -- it can have devastating impacts on learning, friendships and school life.

“Our research shows that when a child grows up in a home where no one is working, they are much more likely to face major obstacles on a number of fronts well beyond simply not having enough money," ARACY CEO Penny Dakin said. 

“It means these kids are more likely to be homeless, to be bullied at school, not get regular or healthy meals and miss out on school excursions."
By age 10, children in jobless families are twice as likely to be bullied. Image: Getty

ARACY surveyed three groups of children in Australia  -- those living in jobless families, those living below the poverty line and those living with a disability -- at different ages throughout childhood.

It found children living below the poverty line are almost twice as likely to lack good relationships with friends, and 2.5 times more likely to be missing out on learning at home.

Those growing up in jobless families were most affected, being nearly twice as likely to be bullied or face social exclusion. They're also four times more likely to be homeless than those in families with a working adult.

It's a shocking reality all too familiar to Katie Acheson, CEO of Youth Action, the peak body for young people and youth services in NSW.

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"For years, we've been hearing from young people who are struggling to feed themselves or struggling to find a job when they can't afford to get on a bus," she told 10 daily.

"It causes increasing stress and anxiety -- and loss of hope. That is not what you want to see in young people who are just starting out their lives."

Poverty has impacts far beyond simply monetary issues (Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg)

Acheson said current children are possibly the first generation in the country's history to have lower living standards than their parents, and that Australia's level of poverty is widely misunderstood.

"When you talk about living in poverty, people understand it might be a bit difficult to pay rent or food," she said.

"But what this report clearly shows is the impact of monetary poverty has huge effects on a child and young person's life beyond just the material basics."

Acheson was particularly shocked by the high levels of bullying. She said such issues can have a long-term effect on a young person's ability to make it through school.

"Poverty has a massive impact in terms of immediate risks but also much wider risks that can perpetuate throughout the rest of their life," she said.

"This is a reminder that we have to look at rising inequality in Australia and address it before these children inherit our bad mistakes."

Calls To Raise Newstart Payments

Advocates argue these issues are only compounded by a "punitive unemployment benefits system" and are repeating calls to raise the level of Newstart payments.

(Getty Images)

"Kids born into families where no one works have no choice in the matter, yet they are effectively penalised because of the stigma attached to their parents," Dakin, from ARACY, said. 

"It’s time to raise the Newstart rate and give kids in these families a fair go."

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A single person on Newstart currently receives $275 each week.

That rate is well below the minimum wage ($695 a week) and poverty line, and  has not risen in real terms for two decades. Other welfare payments, such as the aged pension, have risen significantly in that time.

"The people who are struggling to survive and just to get their foot in the door, we're essentially locking them into poverty for the rest of their lives," Acheson said.

"That's just not the Australian way."

Labor MP Linda Burney. Image: AAP

In response to previous calls to to raise the rate, Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher has said the coalition's focus in on "assisting" unemployed people to "move into the workforce", resisting a push to increase payments.

But Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the government should be  "looking after families when they fall on tough times".

"The Coalition have framed unemployment as a personal moral failing instead of assisting people with the barriers they face to unemployment," she said.

Meanwhile, Labor has committed to reviewing welfare payments if it wins the coming federal election, but stopped short of promising a rise.

Labor MP Linda Burney recently told Fairfax Media that while her party's planned review "cannot linger", there are issues to address before the rate is increased.

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au