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Did Australia miss the point of SBS’ Struggle Street? Perhaps, but for Eric Thorpe, the show reflects the importance of poverty and homelessness support services in Australia.
More than 1.3 million Australians watched the first episode of Struggle Street, SBS’s look at life in some of the poorest areas of Western Sydney.
It was such an outstanding success for SBS that they fast-tracked the rest of the series, and the final two episodes aired last night.
Struggle Street detailed some tragic circumstances of people struggling with poverty, disability and drug addiction in what was some rather enthralling television.
It was hard to look away from these people who are struggling so much without feeling a sense of remorse and compassion for their circumstances…at least most of the time.
The potent image of a drug addicted pregnant woman smoking a cigarette during labour sparked outrage on Twitter last night as people’s compassion ran out.
This feeling of surprise, sadness and disgust however is really what the producers intended for the viewers.
It was intended to shock as it showed just how bad things are, and indeed how bad some of the people can be, in some areas in this country.
But what does that shock really achieve?
How heart breaking it is that such levels of poverty, violence and crime have become entrenched over generations in a small community, will be probably be the pseudo-sophisticated point of conversation made at dinner parties this weekend, but so what?
Other than high rating television, what did Struggle Street actually accomplish…or more importantly, what was it even trying to accomplish?
If its purpose was to merely tell some unique stories about people living in low-income housing areas, then it certainly achieved it – even with the tediously slow and cliché ridden occa voice over.
But it never actually culminated into a real political or even philosophical message.
Maybe there is more that can be taken out of this series though…let us at least, try to find a real message.
On Tuesday night the government released its 2015 budget, which has been lauded as a fairer budget than last year’s, and at the same time criticised as being weak and more politically motivated than visionary, or even fiscally responsible.
However, for social services at least, that may not be a bad thing,
In fact, this budget contains what will likely be this Liberal Government’s most generous contribution towards social services.
It still leaves a lot to be desired but they have at least continued the funding of many existing programs that would positively impact some of the people shown in Struggle Street, as well as homeless and low-income earning people across the country.
They have also delayed the implementation of some of the welfare measures they announced last year, and made less cuts across the board.
They’re also committing money to programs run by non-government and community organisations, helping to aid disadvantaged youth into employment and to help the parents of disadvantaged children to become job ready.
They have also extended the National Partnership Agreement on homelessness for another two years to fund the many homelessness services that support Australia’s homeless population.
These community programs, their existence, importance, and need for continued support and funding from the government of the day, is the point that should have been made by Struggle Street.
What was quite evident in the show is that there were actually support services available to the people involved.
However, in many of the circumstances documented in the episodes, the people involved simply could not commit to working with those support services.
Therein lies one of the hardest challenges to fighting poverty; some people can’t be helped, because in many ways they don’t want to be.
But these programs that give people the opportunity to seek assistance and pull their way out of their horrible circumstances are truly important.
Do some people who are simply unwilling to support themselves abuse these programs?
Are the programs actually effective for helping people overcome poverty and forge a path into the middle class?
But some of these programs do feed and house the homeless, provide assistance for drug addiction and training for getting a job.
And that in itself is a hell of a lot.