PEOPLE in the south-west face higher rates of poverty and disadvantage than their city cousins — a new report has confirmed.
The report reveals what local community leaders have long been saying — that people in country areas are missing out on adequate health care, education and employment opportunities.
With the region’s year 12 or equivalent completion rates much lower than the state average — between 70 and 80 per cent compared to the target rate of 89 per cent — South West Local Learning and Employment Network CEO Toni Jenkins said the report reflected what was happening at a local level.
It found young people in rural and remote areas were less likely to complete high school and less likely to commence higher education, and that people with higher levels of education generally “earn more and are less likely to be unemployed or to stay unemployed”.
“Conversely, people with low levels of education are likely to have less capacity to escape from poverty,” the report stated.
“Lower levels of commencement at university in part reflect the additional barriers to tertiary education for young people from rural areas, particularly the impossibility for most to live at home while at university (because of remoteness from major cities) and therefore the need to be able to afford accommodation in the city.
“The development of rural universities has reduced but not eliminated this as a problem,” the report stated.
The report, A Snapshot of Poverty in Rural and Regional Australia, was released yesterday by the Australian Council of Social Services and the National Rural Health Alliance. Ms Jenkins said the problems facing young people were not going unnoticed and had been well supported by local governments in the region.
“It will take a community approach to support the shift that is required for our community to get the benefits of a better education,” she said.
Greater Green Triangle University department of rural health (GGT UDRH) Professor James Dunbar said there was a very close link between socio-economic factors and the poor health of people in south-west Victoria.
“Rural people are older, poorer and less well-educated,” he said. “A lot of the bright young people leave. The education opportunities are less.”
The report also states that for many rural towns, “the dominant industries are agriculture and tourism, both of which can be subject to variable seasonal influences”.
“For example, towns reliant on tourism frequently have a busy season which provides employment and income for part of the year, and little for the other part, with obvious implications for poverty.
“In a good season, healthy farm incomes bolster town incomes through the purchase of machinery, chemicals, fuel, clothing, groceries and so on, resulting in higher levels of employment and income for in-town families. Conversely, poor seasons greatly reduce the injection of money into the economies of rural towns, resulting in lower levels of employment, lower incomes and greater numbers of bankruptcies.”
National Rural Health Alliance Gordon Gregory said the political leaders need to face the fact that for many people in rural areas life is extraordinarily difficult.
“Overall the prevalence of deprivation is higher in large country towns and other rural areas than in our major cities,” he said.