Main Navigation

Breaking the cycle of poverty in Australia

It's disturbing to think that an estimated 2.5 million people - nearly 14% of all Australians - are unable to supply themselves and their families with life's basic needs. Most people would agree that poverty should not be so prevalent in a country as rich as ours.

Poverty in Australia is not evenly distributed. In fact, like wealth, poverty is often tightly concentrated in certain areas - even certain postcodes.

Likewise, certain groups of people are more likely than others to be affected by poverty and inequality. Single parents, children, the elderly, those living with disabilities, people newly arrived in Australia and people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are by far the most affected by poverty.

What causes poverty? And what is Red Cross doing about it?

The factors that lead to poverty are complex. It's not possible just to fix one thing, and make the problem go away. That's why Red Cross takes the approach of looking at every aspect of life, and providing support everywhere it's needed.

Just because someone is living with poverty doesn't mean they are less capable than others.

Red Cross helps people and communities to tap into their inner strengths in order to overcome the challenges they face.

Difficulties in childhood

Red Cross helps parents give their children the best possible start in life, even when they themselves might have grown up in difficult circumstances. We assist young parents with establishing routines, managing difficult behaviours, cooking nutritious food and helping their children develop healthily through play and socialising.


There are currently 105,237 people in Australia who are homeless. Many more live in temporary or insecure housing which makes them vulnerable to abuse or mental health problems. Red Cross services around Australia provide people with support, meals, accommodation, advice on tenancy problems or job hunting, and links to community services.

Courts and prisons

Going in and out of prison or juvenile detention can seriously impact the ability to find and keep a job, or look after a family. Red Cross supports people who have been released from prison to settle back into a community, build their skills and look for work. We provide mentors, training in life skills, mental health support and positive social interaction to people caught up in the justice system, their friends and families.

Mental health difficulties

People living with mental health difficulties are more likely than the rest of the population to experience homelessness, be imprisoned or be unemployed. Red Cross supports people experiencing mental health challenges to connect with other members of their community; gain safe accommodation; look after their children and overcome problems with drugs or alcohol.

"I don't know that we would have made it through without Red Cross. We would probably be another statistic of either a broken family or on the edge of homelessness." Justin, Queensland

Breaking the cycle of poverty around the world

Around the world, more than a billion people are living in poverty. The poorest families suffer the most when disaster strikes. Red Cross programs around the world help people prepare for events like floods, cyclones or earthquakes and recover from them more quickly afterwards.

Every 20 seconds, a child dies from illnesses caused by poor sanitation. We work with communities to improve access to safe, clean drinking water and simple sanitation facilities like soap and toilets, reducing the spread of disease. We train local people to deliver first aid when needed, and give care and education to communities affected by HIV.

Infographic data source: A 2014 report from the Australian Council of Social Service using the data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics Income and Expenditure surveys for 2011-12 and previous years.

How you can help

To learn more about poverty in Australia and its causes, and how you can help, go to »

Growing leaps and bounds

More than 200 Breakfast Clubs are giving kids a healthy start to their school day. Read more »

Breaking the cycle

Kyla's life turned around when she joined the Red Cross Young Parents Program. Read more »

Good food on a budget

Chelsea and her four boys are healthier and happier after taking part in our FoodREDi program. Read more »

The first step out of poverty

Access to clean, safe water can change everything in developing countries. Read more »