Poverty and Emergency Assistance in the Jewish Community

November 27, 2012 by Andrew Markus
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By a number of economic and living standard indicators, Australia does very well…writes Andrew Markus.

Andrew Markus

Thus Australian life expectancy is one of the highest in the world, at 79.5 years for males and 84 years for females; in 2011, almost two-thirds of Australians aged 25-64 had a non-school qualification; and Australia has a relatively low long-term unemployment rate (defined as continuous unemployment over twelve months or longer). As a percentage of total unemployment, in 2011 long-term unemployment was 19 per cent in Australia, 22 per cent in Israel, 29 per cent in the United States, 33 per cent in the United Kingdom, and 40 per cent in France.

But Australia does less well on measures of income inequality. The Australian Social Inclusion Board publication Social Inclusion in Australia: How Australia is Faring (2012) reports that despite solid economic growth over the last fifteen years, income inequality in Australia has increased. Of the 26 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Australia now has the ninth highest level of income inequality. Compared with OECD countries, Australia has the fourth highest proportion of children living in jobless families. In June 2011, around 590,000 children aged under 15 years (or 14 per cent of all children) lived in jobless families, well above the OECD average of 8.7 per cent.

What of the Jewish community? A study of poverty and emergency assistance in the Jewish community has been prepared for the Jewish Population Study, undertaken by researchers within the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (ACJC), Monash University, in partnership with Jewish Care Victoria. A copy of the report may be downloaded from the internet sites of ACJC and Jewish Care.

The report finds substantial inequality and poverty within the Jewish community, with several indicators pointing to a level of poverty and near poverty which is likely to be above 20 per cent of the Jewish population, higher in Victoria than in New South Wales.

The 2011 census provides the most recent data on income: 6.8 per cent of the population of Victoria and 7.9 per cent of New South Wales had weekly income above $2000 a week. Within the Jewish population, those with income above $2000 per week were more than twice the state average: 17.8 per cent in Victoria, 23.2 per cent in New South Wales.

But there is less difference at the lower income levels: 24.2 per cent of the population of Victoria and 25 per cent of New South Wales had income in the range $200-$399, compared with 18.4 per cent of the Victorian Jewish population and 15.7 per cent of New South Wales.

A conservative adjustment of the enumerated population, to make allowance for those who did not indicate their religion or ethnic background in the census, indicates that approximately 6,500 people aged 20 or above in the Victorian Jewish population and 5,000 in New South Wales had income in the range $200-$399.

Analysis of census data also indicated that more than 2,250 Jewish persons in Victoria and more than 1,300 in New South Wales lived in families where the income is below the poverty line established by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

The highest levels of poverty and near poverty are amongst those unable to work because of a disability. Above average levels are also found amongst the long-term unemployed; those over the age of 70; single-parent families; those born in the Former Soviet Union; and the Ultra-Orthodox and Strictly Orthodox. By a number of accounts, financial problems are growing in Ultra-Orthodox community, in part a function of large family size and lack of training and qualifications to prepare young men for employment.

In the Jewish community a number of organisations provide services to those in need. There are three main providers of accommodation and care for the aged: the Montefiore Jewish Home in Sydney and Jewish Care and Emmy Monash Aged Care in Melbourne.

In Melbourne, the major organisation providing a broad range of welfare services is Jewish Care, with a key focus on those with disabilities in its social justice programs. Where possible, the Jewish Care organisations in Melbourne and Sydney work with people to enable them to build sustainable lives, providing basic training and preparation for job interviews. They also advise on the range of services that are available from government and non-government agencies.

With regard to emergency relief within the Jewish community, Sydney seems to lack the extent of need evident in Melbourne, with no equivalent to the rapid growth of the Melbourne Jewish Charity Fund (MJCF).

The MJCF has become the largest provider of non-aged emergency relief, with an increase in its expenditures from close to $400,000 in 2007 to over $1 million in 2011-12. It provides assistance with rent, medical expenses, food vouchers, provision for the High Holidays, and a range of other services. In 2007-08 over 250 individuals and families received support, in 2011-12 some 380. A majority of the clients, perhaps three-quarters, are Orthodox. Most of its clients have no simple options, no ready solution for the magnitude of the problems that they face.

The MJCF has witnessed significant changes in the local environment: in particular, increased cost of housing; a recent rise in the cost of utilities; and increased cost of kosher meat. It deals with people attempting to cope with psychiatric issues, divorce and family turmoil. The MJCF has advised some clients to move to suburbs where rental is lower, but families with many children continue to face financial problems even if they move.

At present, in the provision of Jewish emergency relief in both Melbourne and Sydney there is lack of high level co-ordination and planning, an approach that may not be sustainable in the long-term.


One Response to “Poverty and Emergency Assistance in the Jewish Community”
  1. Scott says:

    So there are no Jews in poverty outside of Victoria and New South Wales? That’s a relief!

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