Disadvantaged Western Australian families are increasingly being trapped in a cycle of poverty and hardship by the same system that is designed to support them in crisis, according to the final report of the 100 Families WA research project.
Entrenched disadvantage often spans many generations of the same family and can be exacerbated by a multitude of factors, including adverse life experiences, mental health issues and intergenerational trauma, making the cycle very difficult to exit.
100 Families WA is an Australian-first collaborative study between seven community services, WACOSS, The University of Western Australia and a Community Advisory Group (CAG) comprising people with lived experience.
The project followed 400 families over three years, holding regular fortnightly interviews with 100 of those families, to gain a deep understanding of the lived experience of disadvantage in Western Australia.
The final report, which will be presented today to Minister for Communities Simone McGurk MLA, has identified the need for broad systemic change from State and Federal Government policy right through to service delivery by the community sector.
Community Advisory Group member Renna Gayde, who was also a participant in the 100 Families WA project, welcomed the launch of the report and said giving a voice to people with lived experience of entrenched disadvantage was so important to finding solutions that work long-term.
“When you’re stuck in a cycle of poverty, barely making ends meet week-to-week, it feels like there is nothing you can do to get out,” Ms Gayde said.
“While every single story in this report is unique, the experience of trying to find the right supports to help you out of a tough situation can feel like too much of a barrier for people living in entrenched disadvantage and I think that feeling is universal.
“It feels good to be heard when there is so much stigma out there; I just hope this report reaches people with the power to change things and can ultimately have a positive impact on people like me.”
WA Council of Social Services CEO Louise Giolitto said this report provides the evidence that should drive change in community services, government and bureaucracy, as well as the broader community.
“Governments, the services sector and the wider community all have something to learn from this incredible piece of research,” Ms Giolitto said.
“What is abundantly clear is that families stuck in a cycle of poverty and hardship, a cycle often exacerbated by factors such as mental health issues, intergenerational trauma and adverse life experiences are overwhelmed by a system that they feel does not work for them.
“Going forward, I hope this research can inform State and Federal governments, as well as the community services sector, about how we can all work together to implement systemic change and lift people out of entrenched disadvantage.”
UWA Centre for Social Impact Director Professor Paul Flatau said the additional impacts of COVID-19 had led the families involved in the project to question ‘are we really all in this together?’
“We know from the 400 families involved over the life of this project that COVID-19 proved to be a game-changer in many ways,” Professor Flatau said.
“There was a significant increase in government payments, a reprieve from mutual obligations and public utility bills, and a moratorium on rental increases that allowed them to get ahead.
“For many of the families these additional supports were also enough to reduce personal debts, buy nutritious food (where often there had been hunger) and purchase equipment for their children’s schooling, which resulted in an improvement in their own mental and physical health. At the same time, lockdown periods resulted in significant barriers to accessing services.
“Yet, with the end of the COVID-19 supplement and winding back of supports many of our families are not only being left behind but he service system that should be there to support them is in fact locking them in a cycle of entrenched poverty.
“The 100 Families research points to the need for community services to reconfigure support to facilitate transformation rather than maintenance of circumstance, to build on families’ strengths and purpose, and facilitate positive social relationships and connections.”