Australia is often referred to as the ‘lucky country’ – not so for the 2.2 million Australians who live below the poverty line, which collectively make up 12.8% of the Australian population.

According to a report by the Australian Council of Social Service Poverty in Australia, one in eight Australians live below the poverty line.

The international definition of poverty, used by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is having a disposable income less than half that of the median household.

The estimated number of Australians living in poverty rose approximately one-third of a percent from 2003 to 2010. There has been no real change in the number of Australians living below the poverty line despite 20 years of economic growth.

Looking more closely at the data, poverty increased from 11.9% to 14.5% between 2003 and 2007 and then decreased from 14.6% to 12.3% between 2007 and 2010.

So what is going on with the Australian homeless?

A recent Mission Australia program provided homeless men in Sydney with a range of essential support in areas of dental, mental health, personal grooming and hygiene, education, self-esteem and personal fitness. The idea was to improve their wellbeing, social and economic inclusion and access to sustainable housing.

The Mission Australian program (Michael Project) involved thousands of men from the Mission Australia homeless service.

A longitudinal study of 106 men was chosen and resulted in some tangible financial benefits for society.

* Before the program, the men were four times more likely to visit the hospital emergency department, which is one of the most expensive costs of the health system. After a year in the program, the number had fallen to 1.7 times the general population.
* Before the program, only 6% were employed. After 12 months this had risen to 18% and many of them were looking for work.
* Before the program, 97% were in government-funded emergency accommodation. After a year in the program, this decreased to 16%.
* Before the program, there were very few in secure long-term housing. After 12 months, 42% were in sustainable accommodation.

As a result of the Mission Australia program, the men were less likely to use health and justice services. The costs were tracked and the costs on government services (ambulances, emergency departments, courts, and police) decreased on average by $8,446 per person.

The running costs of the Mission Australia program delivered savings to the public of $3,601 per person.

The social and economic costs and benefits of solving Australia’s poverty should be at the forefront of the public, government, and business.

The Mission Australian program is just one of many successful programs organised and run by organisations across Australia.

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