POVERTY outside the major cities needs priority attention from the Abbott government.
Two of the nation's peak community bodies - the Australian Council of Social Service and the National Rural Health Alliance - will today release a report on the extent of poverty and disadvantage outside the major capital cities, highlighting its devastating impact on people's lives and on country towns and communities.
It reveals that, allowing for the costs of housing, poverty is slightly worse in rural, regional and remote areas (13.1 per cent) than in capital cities (12.6 per cent).
But when housing costs (which are higher in capital cities) are not taken into account, the divide becomes starker.
The report, A snapshot of poverty in rural and regional Australia, reveals the resource disadvantages that prevent people in country areas from attaining the basic standard of living and access to services that city-dwellers take for granted.
Nearly seven million Australians live outside metropolitan areas, and 18 of the 20 electorates with the lowest household incomes are outside the capital cities, it says.
This is in part due to higher unemployment in regional Australia.
The exceptions are NSW and Western Australia, where very high housing costs in the capital cities have increased the risk of poverty in those cities.
People in small country towns and rural areas have higher rates of economic exclusion than residents of the inner city, mainly as a result of greater difficulty in raising $500 in an emergency or $2000 within a week.
"The lower cost of housing in rural and remote areas can entice people on lower incomes to move to these areas. Unfortunately, these areas often provide little opportunity for employment," the report says.
The executive director of the NRHA, Gordon Gregory, will say at the launch today that the nation's leaders must accept that for many people in rural areas life is extraordinarily difficult.
"In so many respects, life in rural Australia is the best in the world, however, we know that country life brings its own set of stresses that are mostly unseen and not talked about," he will say.
"People living in poverty in our country areas are missing out on opportunities and resources the rest of us enjoy, such as adequate health and dental care, good education, employment opportunities, affordable quality food and recreation."
ACOSS deputy chief executive Tessa Boyd-Caine said the groups would push to see measures to address growing poverty in country areas to be a priority of this federal parliament.
"Having more than two million people living below the poverty line in a country as wealthy as ours is simply unacceptable," Dr Boyd-Caine said.
"It's critical we all work together to improve the underlying factors that are leaving people behind in our country areas. These include . . . declining employment opportunities, lower incomes of people living in these regions, and distance and isolation."
Read more at The Australian.