Lone parent families, people with long-term conditions or disabilities, Indigenous Australians, the poorly educated, migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds, and the elderly are two to three times as likely as the population as a whole to be deeply and persistently socially excluded.

(Source: McLachlan, Gilfillan and Gordon, 2013)

A persistent problem for all Australians

We know that family background plays a central role in determining the adult outcomes of young people in countries such as Australia that have high income inequality. Social disadvantage tends to concentrate in low-income communities, is highly likely to continue across generations within families, and is prevalent within specific marginal social groups, including Indigenous Australians and migrants (McLachlan, Gilfillan and Gordon, 2013).

Issues such as poverty, homelessness, lack of education, ill-health, low levels of labour market participation, and crime are all negative consequences of deep and persistent disadvantage. The economic costs associated with these outcomes are staggering.

The growing divide between high- and low-income earners is the top economic risk facing Australia and many other nations over the next 10 years (World Economic Forum, 2012). In Australia, the most underprivileged Australians have not benefited from the nation’s growing prosperity over the past two decades. In 2010, an estimated 2.9 million Australians were experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage in areas such as education, health, employment and community involvement. We know that Australian children who grow up in disadvantaged families are:

  • 3 to 5 times more likely to be expelled from school
  • 5 times more likely to repeat a year of school, or go before a juvenile court
  • 2 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or to have used illegal drugs.

The lottery of one’s birth is a crucial factor in determining who will experience disadvantage. It is also the key to finding meaningful strategies to reduce social inequality and make a difference.