Published: November 18, 2020

Changing the perception of destitute people; that their situation is not their fault, is key to solving Australia’s poverty.

This is the view of Life Course Centre researchers at The University of Queensland, Associate Professor Cameron Parsell and colleagues, Dr Andrew Clarke and Associate Professor Francisco Perales, from the UQ School of Social Science, along with Associate Professor Richard Robinson from the UQ School of Business, who have teamed up to study how transforming charity could reduce persistent poverty.

Associate Professor Parsell is a Life Course Centre Associate Investigator and incoming Chief Investigator, and Dr Clarke and Associate Professor Perales are Life Course Centre Research Fellows.

Associate Professor Cameron Parsell.

Dr Parsell and the team will partner with key charitable organisations to underpin and change the work that they do.

“We are excited to be developing social science research that will benefit some of the most excluded citizens,” Dr Parsell said.

“People living in poverty are often positioned as deficient, deviant, and responsible for their poverty. Our research advocates for governments and charities to re-position the recipient of charity as an individual, with the right to participate in interdependent exchange,” he said.

One of the aims of this research is to design a system where participating organisations – The Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society, The Commonwealth of Australia, and Department of Social Services – can provide support to individuals as a means of normality and inclusion.

Dr Parsell said critically, charities need to understand that society and wellbeing relies upon our interdependent relationships in society, and that we all benefit from both asking for and providing help.

“Charities need to start from a place that recognises people in need of charity are capable of giving back, and desire to give back,” he said.

“But there will always be power and resource imbalances that mean individuals may never be able to give back what they have received. If they’re not able to reciprocate, this invariably makes people feels undervalued and insignificant. We need to go out of our way to create the practical and symbolic conditions where people can give back what they feel they can at that time,” Dr Parsell said.

The Australian Research Council is funding the project: ‘Transforming Charity to Reduce Persistent Poverty’ (2019-2023).