John Falzon on ‘inequality':
Disability advocates have long made the excellent point that the idea of “disability” largely depends on how we structure our society and our economy. If someone cannot walk up the steps we can decide as a society that it’s tough luck or even that they should be blamed for falling. On the other hand, we can be sensible and build a ramp. The same goes for other experiences of exclusion. Unemployment is painted as a moral failure. The causes, however, are primarily structural rather than personal. For one thing, there are just not enough jobs.
Aren’t there? Gosh, Australia must be very different from Britain then…
Then there are issues such as inadequate or inappropriate skills …
Which Britain seems to have ‘solved’ by importing them!
… housing stress and homelessness …
What is ‘housing stress’? Is it not having the house you’d like? I suffer from that!
… health problems, and difficulties accessing transport or childcare.
To be solved by having everyone else pay for your transport and your children on top of their own, if they can afford them…
Welfare payments, by themselves, are not the solution to poverty and inequality. But neither are they the problem, any more than a hospital is the problem that causes ill health.
An adequate income is crucial, which is why, despite the constant ideological resistance, we continue to advocate for a much-needed $50 a week increase to the Newstart payment (which currently sits at 40% of the after-tax minimum wage) and a change in the way it is indexed.
Yes, paying out more in welfare will solve the problem. Right?
This week is Anti-Poverty Week, an annual national awareness event which aims to engage communities in activities to highlight or overcome issues of poverty and hardship here in Australia or overseas. The St Vincent de Paul Society of Australia has today released Two Australias – a report on poverty in the land of plenty, which outlines the investments required to tackle social inequality.
Tackling inequality means investing in high quality social and economic infrastructure for the benefit of all. It means high quality education and health being completely accessible to everyone regardless of their income or their postcode, their gender, the colour of their skin, or their disability. It means guaranteeing appropriate housing rather than abandoning people to a private rental market that is notoriously bad at meeting the needs of low-income households.
Sound like socialism to me. Say, hasn’t that already been tried?
In 2004, Tom Calma, then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner, explained the difference between formal and substantive equality:
[I]f there are two people stuck down two different wells, one of them is 5m deep and the other is 10m deep, throwing them both 5m of rope would only accord formal equality. Clearly, formal equality does not achieve fairness. The concept of substantive equality recognises that each person requires a different amount of rope to put them both on a level playing field…giving extra rope to those who stand above the wells while leaving those who are stuck down the wells with nothing but the view from below and the dream of sunlight.
I know who I’d like to see down that well…
Which brings us back to where we started. Social spending, regardless of the screams of blue murder from those who have more than enough rope, helps build greater equality. This isn’t just good for the people stuck down the wells. It’s good for everyone since the higher the level of inequality the higher the rates of crime, mortality and physical and mental illness. Inequality is literally bad for our health.
And that sounds a lot like blackmail to me – ‘Pony up the money or we’ll just steal it instead’…
Now, that’s the socialism we all know and loathe!