The Impact of Poverty - interview with Steve Zubrick
Telethon Kids Research Focus Area Head, Brain and Behaviour, Professor Steve Zubrick
Growing up poor is about more than just the size of your bank account.
Annual income is certainly one measure of families doing it tough. For the record, the financial poverty line is drawn at or below $30,700 for a family of four.
But families can be impoverished in range of other ways, according to Telethon Kids Research Focus Area Head, Brain and Behaviour Professor Steve Zubrick. Time, for example, is something that many families now say they don’t have enough of.
And, when someone significant in a child’s life does not spend enough time on their care and wellbeing, this can have consequences for their development.
Professor Zubrick said there can also be an impoverishment of general parenting skills on the part of a child’s carers, perhaps a result of very low or no education, which can again have a detrimental effect.
“When we talk about poverty it is important to talk about poverty of what and widen that insight out a little more broadly,” he said.
Professor Zubrick said being impoverished could have an impact on health, physical and mental, and also on the expectations and opportunities offered to a developing child.
“Poverty can affect the supply of food and care … so that we have seen children who have grown up in impoverished environments becoming adults who have a higher frequency of lung, kidney and heart disease, for example,” he said.
“When you step back and look at what is the significance of living a life in poverty, the word that stands out for me is stress, just the constant grind of making life work for you and that takes a toll on your body and it takes a toll on your mental stamina,” he said.
“We see the physical outcomes of that, we see the long-term signals that it sends in terms of the shortening of the life span, a reduction in terms of life expectancy, we also see higher rates of mental illness, self-harm and suicide.
“Those are really hard outcomes when you look at poverty and deep poverty particularly as an effect.”
Poverty was an ongoing struggle for many indigenous families, according to Professor Zubrick.
The social and economic situation that surrounded many indigenous families led to lower expectations and opportunities, with factors such as social exclusion and racism coming into play.
“There is a higher proportion of developmental chaos within some indigenous families and communities and it makes it very hard for the youngster to get their developmental feet under them.
“That is something that robust policies are trying to address … but it is absolutely critical to make sure indigenous people are empowered to make choices on their behalf.”
Professor Zubrick said when poverty became chronic it could be transmitted to the next generation.
A national research priority was to identify the policies and actions that could help, particularly young people and people in their early adulthood, break away from that.
“It is one thing to steadily recognise that we have families that remain on the books over decades, how do we create environments and systems that provide roads and avenues out from that?
“We don’t have good answers to that question and that is why we are doing research.”