Call for councils to play greater role in anti-poverty campaign

By Angela Dorizas

Local government should play a much greater role in anti-poverty initiatives and the provision of affordable housing, according to the organiser of Anti-Poverty Week.

National chair of Anti-Poverty Week and director of the University of New South Wales’ Social Justice Project, Professor Julian Disney, said he would like to see councils and shires much more involved in the national campaign.

“One of the things we’re keen on starting next year is for local councils to organise anti-poverty forums and to invite not only the local community, but local members of Parliament to talk about poverty in their area and action that can be taken not just by governments, but by other people to address it,” Disney told GovernmentNews.

He also encouraged councils to develop and coordinate a coalition of concerned community groups to run a week-long program of events to raise awareness of poverty in the local area.

“One of the key purposes of Anti-Poverty Week is to help build networks and interaction between people from different parts of the community who are concerned about poverty,” Disney said.

“A lot of the people who work most closely with people in poverty or severe hardship are not welfare workers.

“There are teachers, health workers, police officers – a whole range of different people – and we want to encourage more interaction between them at the local level.”

Disney said all councils were responsible for addressing poverty in their communities regardless of how prosperous they may be.

“It is in the long-term interest for council areas to be genuinely prosperous and harmonious,” he said.

“If they’re already a prosperous community then they need to make sure that they’re a harmonious community, that there aren’t great divides.”

“If it’s the other way around and they’re not prosperous then obviously the more they can encourage people in there area and help them to improve their lot the less likely it is to be a stigmatised area from the point of view of businesses and residents.”

He said a key measure was much greater involvement of local government in the provision of affordable housing.

“The problem of affordable housing is so great that all councils, no matter how prosperous, need to make a contribution to addressing that problem,” Disney said.

“That’s a very important way of reducing poverty because for the next decade or two unaffordable housing costs are going to be one of the greatest causes of poverty.”

Anti-Poverty Week runs from the 11 to 17 October 2009. The main aims of the campaign is to strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship; and to encourage research, discission and action to address the problems.

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