We need to step up the fight against inequality

January 19, 2022
Angela Carr speaks at a rally in Geelong. Photo: Supplied

I’m a union delegate, a community services worker and a housing justice campaigner and I am standing on a People and Planet Before Profit ticket for the Victorian Senate.

We have food insecurity in this rich country that is not widely spoken about. Right now, with the pandemic impacting workers operating supply chains, supermarket shelves are being stripped bare and people are losing their minds because they cannot get their meat and veggies.

But, there many people who cannot afford these items on a regular basis.

Many people across the country — from remote communities to urban areas — cannot get access to healthy food, or enough food, on a daily basis. And this is happening in a rich country.

The capitalist system intentionally keeps people in this cycle of poverty through unjust systems that cover all areas of our lives — health, welfare, education, justice and the workplace.

This rich country cannot provide enough affordable housing because houses are treated as commodities. The idea that housing is a human right does not register with politicians who prefer to serve rich landlords.

There is a shortage of affordable houses. The low number of public housing places, combined with high market rents and wages that have not grown in line with the cost of living is contributing to this. The average worker and young people are being priced out of the property and rental market.

I reject the federal government’s line that “housing is a state issue”. That is false. It could play a strong role if it wanted to, or was pushed to. In Finland, we can see that all levels of government can work together to eradicate homelessness.

A federal government commitment to building large-scale public housing projects, abolishing tax exemptions and introducing rent caps is the only way to solve this crisis.

A livable wage for all, workers and people on income support, is a no brainer. Insecure and low-paid and casual work all help drive people into poverty.

Without the government permanently doubling income support payments, currently well below the poverty line, vulnerable people will not be able to maintain basic human needs such as shelter, food, medical care and employment.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)  is flawed as we’ve seen participants struggle to access the most basic level of service or equipment necessary for them to live independent lives. The inequalities can be exacerbated depending on your postcode. First Nations communities in regional or remote areas not only face a critical lack of support services, obtaining access to the NDIS is almost impossible.

People living with poor mental health can rarely gain access to the Disability Support Pension, leaving them vulnerable to being cut off the JobSeeker allowance when they cannot meet their mutual obligations. Older people and single parents also face the unrealistic “mutual obligation” provisions. And we must not forget the punitive and racist basics card, first rolled out to First Nations communities.

Policies that punish the most vulnerable are not just inequitable, they are criminal. The system needs a radical overhaul so that the people doing it tough can survive.

This federal election we need to promote collectivist, socialist solutions to the crises. The pandemic is exposing the crisis in the public health care system, the result of funding cuts over the last decade. Bulk billing services are less accessible than ever, which places a higher demand on emergency departments.

To counter the government spin on individuals “taking responsibility”, which pits worker against workers, we need to promote working class solidarity and resolving again to collectively struggle for our rights.

[Angela Carr is a Senate candidate in Victoria. This article is based on a presentation given to the 16th national conference of the Socialist Alliance.]

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