What was claimed
A meme suggests the Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said there is "no such thing as poverty". The meme also states “35 per cent of pensioners in Australia live below the poverty line".
False: There is no available evidence to show Senator Ruston said there is “no such thing as poverty". And the proportion of Australians aged 65 and over living in relative income poverty is 23.7 per cent not 35 per cent as suggested in the meme.
By Ellen McCutchan
A meme featuring a photo of Social Services Minister Anne Ruston overlaid with the words “No such thing as poverty” suggests these words are attributable to the minister, but there is no evidence to support this claim.
A Facebook post, published on 30 March, alleges Senator Ruston made the statement on Twitter.
Another post from February 18, which includes her photo and the words, but does not attribute them directly to the senator, suggests she had “refused[d] to accept" there was poverty in Australia during a senate hearing the previous day.
But a search by RMIT FactLab of the Senate Hansard, news articles, and Senator Ruston’s online posts and media appearances, found no evidence that she has ever claimed there is “no such thing as poverty”.
Senator Ruston has, however, spoken about poverty on several occasions, suggesting that it is difficult to define.
On February 17, she was questioned during a Senate Estimates hearing for the Community Affairs Legislation Committee. In response to questions about the JobKeeper unemployment benefit rate in relation to the poverty line, the minister said there were “many definitions of ‘poverty’”.
“It's very complex,” she said. “This idea that you are going to have a couple of lines that define something—I think it's an oversimplification of what is a very complex issue.”
During an October 2020 hearing, she said: “A narrow definition of poverty is not something that the government has ever sought, and doesn't have, and it has been the practice of successive governments to be much more targeted and focused around the development of payments.”
And in March 2021, she told Fran Kelly on ABC Breakfast that “we need to be very careful about making a judgement in relation to poverty", saying that she did not agree with Kelly that there was a well-established poverty line measure.
The meme also includes a claim that “35 per cent of pensioners in Australia live below the poverty line", which supposedly puts Australia second last on that measure in the OECD.
RMIT FactLab has previously fact checked a variation of this claim.
According to the OECD's latest data, published in July 2021, the proportion of Australians aged 65 and over living in relative income poverty is 23.7 per cent, or more than 10 percentage points lower than that claimed in the meme.
Relative income poverty is defined as "having an income below half the national median equivalised household disposable income".
At a rate of 23.7 per cent, Australia ranks sixth worst out of the 38 OECD nations on the measure of old age income poverty.
Having said that, it’s noteworthy that some experts have previously taken issue with the OECD's old-age poverty measure.
In a 2019 article, for example, the Grattan Institute's Brendan Coates and Tony Chen called the measure "deeply flawed".
"Small changes in reality produce apparently very different outcomes, calculation of the benchmark rests on arbitrary definitions of equivalisation, it does not take into account drawdowns on savings outside superannuation, and it does not adequately account for housing costs," they wrote.
According to the Grattan researchers, taking the benefits of home ownership into account halved the proportion of older Australians considered to be in poverty, making the measure unreliable.
— with Olivia Thomson and Siena O’Kelly
False: Contrary to a meme on social media, there is no available evidence to show that Senator Anne Ruston said the words there is “no such thing as poverty". Furthermore, the proportion of Australians aged 65 and over living in relative income poverty is 23.7 per cent, according to OECD data, not 35 per cent as suggested in the meme.
Acknowledgement of Country
RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.