What is the project about?

This project aimed to understand better how young people experience poverty and other forms of social disadvantage. Its focus is on finding out more about how young people in NSW between the ages of 12 and 16 (in school years 7-10) perceive and experience material deprivation (‘missing out’) and social exclusion (‘being left out’). 

The project identifies poverty as a situation where people do not have enough income to achieve a minimum standard of living. The approach drew on information provided by young people about what things they agree everyone should have – things like some pocket money each week to spend on yourself and an annual holiday with family. Using this approach means that young people themselves have a say in how their disadvantaged status is identified, measured and assessed.

These kinds of studies are often conducted on adults, so this is the first time the approach has been applied to young people in Australia.

The results provided policymakers with better information about the kinds of problems that young people encounter so that they can design better policy responses.

Research Centre

Social Policy Research Centre

Research Area

Policy Design, Impact and Evaluation | Families and Communities | Measures of Social Inequality and Wellbeing

Where is the study happening?

The project involved a sample of young people studying in years 7-10 in NSW Government schools and some young people accessing services by The Smith Family.

Who is doing the research?

The research was based at the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW and was led by Professor Peter Saunders, who has been researching different aspects of poverty for over three decades.  

Why is this project important?

This study is important because it is the first study in Australia that adopts a child-centred view of what constitutes an acceptable minimum standard of living for young people. 

In applying a living standard approach to young people in a way that embodies their own views, the findings will impact directly on how their wellbeing is understood and how it can be improved in ways that reflect their views and experiences – not only those who are themselves doing it tough but all young people. 

The research highlighted the factors that are associated with the experience of different forms of social disadvantage. It also explored how it affects young people’s wellbeing, lifestyle and aspirations, and how they relate to their friends and peers, family members, the schooling system, local neighbourhood and the wider community. 

The findings contributed new understandings and perspectives to the growing interest in children’s experiences of poverty. The evidence can assist schools and services in delivering what children and young people need in ways that they will use and benefit from.

How is the research being done?

There are two main components to the study. 

  1. Focus Groups: the first part of the study involved running focus groups with students in years 7-10 in a sample of NSW Government schools and with young people who are accessing some of the services provided by The Smith Family. These focus groups explored what items and activities young people think are necessary to live ‘a normal kind (or decent) life’ – things that all young people should have access to. The output informed the questions that will be asked to a much larger sample of young people in the second stage of the project. 

  2. Survey: the centrepiece of the second stage of the research was  a large survey of the circumstances and views of young people conducted through schools and services for young people. These surveys will be conducted with the assistance of the NSW Department of Education and Communities and The Smith Family. The survey questionnaire asked young people about the items they have, and – if they don’t have certain items – it asked whether they would like to have them or not. It also asked young people about their overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, including asking about some basic information about themselves, their family and friends, neighbourhood and social networks. The information collected in the survey was then examined in detail by the Research Team. They used it to compare patterns of material deprivation (who is missing out on basic items) and social exclusion (who is prevented from participating economically and socially) and develop summary indicators of deprivation and exclusion.

How will the information be feedback to the community and policymakers?

The final stage of the project involved examining the policy and practice implications of the findings and disseminating the results widely to other researchers and potential users of the findings. 

The project report addressed what forms of social disadvantage are most common, which groups are most affected and what the consequences are for young people – now and into the future. 

These insights and recommendations were the subject of detailed discussion at a stakeholder workshop that brought together leading NSW researchers and policymakers with expertise and interest in identifying social disadvantage and its impacts. Young people were also invited to attend and participate in the workshop. Workshop participants critically assessed the approach and interpretation of the results and advise on how best to disseminate the findings and identify potential uses and users.

What if I have a complaint?

If you have a complaint about this research, please contact:

Ethics Secretariat 
UNSW Sydney 
Sydney NSW 2052  

T: (02) 9385 4234 
E: humanethics@unsw.edu.au

Any complaint you make will be investigated promptly and you will be informed of the outcome.

Can I learn the outcomes of the study?

If you would like more information about the project or join our mailing list, please email us and we will notify you of any recent publications.

Related people