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Poverty in Australia

Not all children get an equal start in life.


Not all children get an equal start in life.

Today, one in six Australian children and young people are living in poverty1, where even life's basics are hard to come by. 

When families are experiencing financial disadvantage children can fall behind with their learning, leaving them more vulnerable to experiencing hardship themselves later in the life. 

Research shows children and young people living in disadvantage have access to fewer books and learning materials in the home. Access to support and resources forms the foundation for learning. In many cases, the parents of disadvantaged children may not have the skills or experience to support their child’s education. As these children get older, they have fewer role models, and access to mentors and networks that are critical for creating educational opportunities to help them build their aspirations and be motivated to learn.

The Cycle of Disadvantage

The effects of growing up in poverty go beyond the home environment. For over 1.1 million Australian children and young people1 this can negatively affect their school life and mean they are less likely to achieve the educational outcomes (and in turn employment outcomes) that then limit their overall life outcomes, passing on disadvantage to the next generation.


Families receiving our support face some complex and often compounding challenges:
  • All of them live in low-income families
  • More than half live in single-parent family, with 6% living with another relative or in foster care
  • Around 40% of students and 50% of their parents/carers have a health or disability issue
  • Around 60% have a parent or carer who didn’t finish Year 12
  • More than 70% of students have a parent or carer who is not in paid employment
  • One in five students in Years 5 – 12 have attended four or more schools
  • Three in 10 Learning for Life families/children do not have a computer or tablet connected to the internet

Our Head of Policy and Programs Wendy Field on ABC News 24 discussing how poverty limits children's educational outcomes and future job prospects.

"Intuitively you think Australia is the land of opportunity and all kids have access to education. But the data shows really clearly that kids growing up in disadvantaged households have much poorer [educational] development at school start than their more advantaged peers" - Wendy Field, Head of Policy and Programs

the impact of disadvantage

Disadvantaged students are on average 2 to 3 years behind in reading and maths by the time they are 15 years old.

Disadvantaged students are on average 2-3 years behind in reading and maths by the time they are 15 years old.2

The reading gap between the lowest socio‑economic status (SES) students and the highest SES students is equivalent to almost three years of schooling.3

Year 12 completion rates are significantly lower (60%) for students from low SES backgrounds than for students from high SES backgrounds (90%).4

University students from high SES backgrounds are three times more likely to attend, than students from low SES backgrounds.5

why is education so important?

Research shows that completing Year 12 (or equivalent) increases a young person’s likelihood of continuing with further study, as well as entering the workforce.6

It also leads to higher annual earnings for individuals, greater community involvement and economic benefits for the country as a whole.

Not completing Year 12 can lead to:

  • Increased crime and poorer health outcomes among early school leavers
  • Nationally lower levels of productivity
  • Reduced quality of the labour force
  • Increased unemployment
  • Lower growth in income tax collections6
Education attainment is an important predictor of future employment, welfare and health prospects – and it improves [a person’s] ability to contribute socially and economically in the community.

how we help break the cycle of disadvantage

Girl writing at the Homework Club

Our Learning for Life programs support children and young people to participate more fully in their education by providing innovative, evidence-based programs and emotional, practical and financial support throughout their schooling and tertiary education.

Our programs give disadvantaged students the skills, motivation and essentials to stay in school and get the most from their education so they can create a better future for themselves.

1 Poverty in Australia, 2018, ACOSS/UNSW Report.
2 Thomson et al, 2011, Challenges for Australian Education: Results from PISA 2009.
3 Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2011, Review of school funding final report.
4 Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority 2012. National Report on Schooling in Australia 2010: Additional statistics.
5 Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2008, Review of Australian Higher Education Final Report.
6 Access Economics 2005, The economic benefit of increased participation in education and training. Dusseldorp Skills Forum and Business Council of Australia, Sydney.

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