Melbourne Institute releases interactive platform to better understand poverty in Australia

The latest report in the Breaking down Barriers series, released today, finds 40 per cent of Australian communities exceed the national poverty rate of 12 per cent.

The report – Spatial and Community Dimensions of Income Poverty – and interactive visualisations have been produced by the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research as part of an ongoing partnership with the Paul Ramsay Foundation to develop a better and more rigorous understanding of the needs of Australian communities facing poverty.

Explore the visualisations:

In and Out 

Community level poverty rates

Report co-author and Director of the Melbourne Institute, Professor A. Abigail Payne says this work is an extension of the Institute’s established commitment to creating and using data to inform economic and social policy.

The Breaking Down Barriers initiative is bringing data to life and working towards the development of shared data environments to better understand and address poverty and disadvantage in Australia.

Poverty is a national issue, all the more prevalent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic with increasing numbers of households reliant on the welfare system.

“It is more important than ever to understand the drivers of poverty over time. Over the coming months we will see a reduction in the COVID related payments which have kept many households afloat. If we are to address poverty in a meaningful way we need to better understand what is happening at a community level. This report and the interactive tool demonstrate the important variation in poverty rates across communities and over time,” Professor Payne said.

Professor Glyn Davis AC, CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation, said the COVID-19 pandemic has made finding solutions to community poverty even more urgent.

“Some communities continue to be stuck in entrenched cycles of poverty. With the onset of the pandemic, the challenge for reducing entrenched poverty in these communities is even greater, and will take years to address,” Professor Davis said.

Developed under the coordination of Senior Research Fellow Dr Rajeev Samarage, this tool is an important first step in addressing this serious social issue.

“The interactive visualisation is a small example of where we are heading in our multi-year project to develop a shared data environment to assist researchers, practitioners, and analysts to better understand the factors that affect poverty,” Dr Samarage said.

Using the data visualisations, users can explore key socio-economic characteristics of the communities based on their ranking on poverty relative to other communities. The visualisations rely on data from the Census in 2006, 2011 and 2016 and include approximately 2,142 communities.

“We have extended the analysis to address what enables entry into and prevents exit from poverty. By better understanding this variation and the factors correlated with poverty we can introduce and test effective innovations in policy and practice to meet a national aspiration to eliminate poverty in Australia,” Professor Payne said.

According to the report, the share of households close to the poverty line decreased between 2006 and 2016. But, the average share of households living in extreme poverty in our communities – those who receive less than a quarter of the median income –  has increased, from 3.2 per cent in 2006 to 3.9 per cent in 2016.

Single people and single parent households are also much more likely to experience poverty. On average, 23 per cent of single households in each community were in poverty in 2016, down from 29 per cent in 2006. 22 per cent of single parents were in poverty across the ten years covered in the report, compared with less than ten per cent of couple households.

The report is the second of three to be released in 2020 by the Melbourne Institute in partnership with the Paul Ramsay Foundation.