Youth poverty rate doubled 1983-96, Australian researchers say

Tom Boland (
Sun, 23 May 1999 15:13:57 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  The Age [Australia] - Tuesday 18 May 1999


     By Darren Gray - Medical Reporter

The proportion of Australian children living in poverty has almost doubled
since 1983, according to research by children's health specialists.

Nine per cent of Australian children lived in poverty in 1983 but by 1996
this figure had grown to 16 per cent, the researchers found.

Doctors yesterday expressed concern at the increase, saying it had serious
ramifications for children's health and outcomes in the short and long

Children from poor families were at greater risk from a range of infections
such as chest, ear, nose, throat and skin infections, they warned.

Mothers on low incomes also were more likely to deliver premature and low
birth-weight babies. These babies were more likely to suffer illness and
other complications than full-term babies of normal weight.

The research was conducted by a paediatrician, Dr Shanti Raman, and
colleagues from the Western Sydney Area Health Service. Dr Raman presented
the findings last week at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians'
annual scientific meeting in Perth.

She said there was an alarming trend towards impoverished children in

``These children have less immunisation, dentist visits, doctors' visits.
They're also more likely to have learning disabilities, attentional
problems, depression and other mental health problems,'' she said.

Dr Raman said poor income areas needed more appropriate health services,
adolescent health services and more resources to solve homelessness.

To measure poverty, the researchers used an internationally accepted
measure of poverty based on household income.

The poverty line was defined as families earning less than half of the
average household income.

The median household income in Australia in 1996 was $637 a week before
tax, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In that year more
than 600,000 Australian children were living in poverty.

The research also revealed a greater increase in child poverty than adult
poverty. The proportion of the adult population living in poverty increased
only slightly, from 12per cent to 14per cent between 1983 and 1996.

Dr Melissa Wake, a paediatrician at the centre for community child health
at the Royal Children's Hospital, said the first three years of life were
crucial for a child's later development and wellbeing.

Children from lower socio-economic groups often used medical services in a
different way to children from wealthy families, she said.

``They are less likely to have a single care-giver, a single GP, and
possibly more likely to get health care from a range of free providers and
therefore lack continuity of care,'' she said.

``I think it's really worrying (the increase in child poverty) and I think
all of those who work particularly in primary health care and community
health care for children should be worried by these figures,'' she said.

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