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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 March, 2004, 10:34 GMT
One-fifth of Australians 'in poverty'
Up to four million Australians - one-fifth of the population - are living in poverty, with some families not able to afford breakfast for their children, a parliamentary report has found.

Aboriginal children
Many children do not eat breakfast
The report came from a committee in the upper house of parliament and has been disavowed by Prime Minister John Howard.

This was the first report in 30 years to study poverty in Australia and it offered a bleak picture.

It said more than 20% of Australians could not afford medicines for their children, and had no money to buy textbooks to send them to school.

Howard slams study

The gap between rich and poor was getting bigger, the report said.

Redfern, Australia
Unemployment in Australia is rising
The committee chairman, Steve Hutchins, said the government needed to spend more on schools, to give needy children money for breakfast and offer a higher minimum wage, as well as lower taxes for the unemployed.

Prime Minister Howard rejected the report emphatically.

In the past 20 years, he said, more people have found jobs, wages have risen and government welfare payments to families have increased.

The minister for community services, Senator Kay Patterson, said the report was more about politics than poverty.

Australia added jobs at the slowest pace in seven months in February, while unemployment rose to 5.9%.

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