Living on the Edge: New Forms of Poverty and Disadvantage on the Urban Fringe

  • Sonia Martin
  • Robin Goodman


This chapter considers the impact of the built environment in generating new forms and locations of poverty and disadvantage. Drawing on evidence from Australia, this chapter investigates the increasing divide in many large and suburbanised cities between residents with access to jobs, services, community and cultural provisions, and those without. A growing body of research indicates the locational disadvantages that residents face living far from the central hubs of employment. Large and sprawling Australian cities such as Melbourne and Sydney demonstrate a pattern of high housing costs in the inner city where there is the largest concentration of the best paying jobs, high levels of public transport provision and access to a multitude of services. In contrast, the most affordable housing can be found in suburbs perhaps 30–40 kilometres from the centre, with little transport provision and few employment opportunities. Such places typically have a young family profile, a higher proportion of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, greater levels of mortgage and personal debt, and are more likely to experience socio-economic disadvantage. This is a new pattern of social division and exclusion, and one that is perhaps less visible than previous patterns of spatialised class divisions. Starting from the premise that access to resources is a key ingredient in avoiding long-term disadvantage, the chapter critically explores a number of dimensions of place as a focus of urban social work. What does this new context mean for social work practice? What challenges and opportunities does it present for social work to respond to alternate forms of poverty and disadvantage? What lessons may be drawn for other cities with similar urban forms?


Social Work House Price Public Transport Family Violence Housing Cost 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. AASW (Australian Association of Social Workers). (2010). Code of ethics. Canberra: AASW.Google Scholar
  2. ABS. (2011). Census of population and housing. Accessed 2 Sept 2015.
  3. ABS. (2013). Housing occupancy and costs, 2011–2012, 4130.0.Google Scholar
  4. ABS. (2015a). Population clock, 3235.0. Accessed 31 Aug 2015.
  5. ABS. (2015b). Residential property price indexes: Eight capital cities, 6416.0. Accessed 7 Oct 2015.
  6. ABS. (2015c). Household income and wealth Australia, 2013–14, 6523.0. Accessed 11 Sept 2015.
  7. AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). (2015). Demand for housing assistance grows: More seeking rent assistance and social housing waiting lists remain long. Accessed 1 Sept 2015.
  8. Arthurson, K. (2013). Neighbourhood effects and social cohesion: Exploring the evidence in Australian urban renewal policies. In D. Manley, M. Van Ham, N. Bailey, L. Simpson, & D. Maclennan (Eds.), Neighbourhood effects or neighbourhood based problems? A policy context. Dordrecht: Springer Science and Business.Google Scholar
  9. Atkinson, R., Wulff, M., Reynolds, M., & Spinney, A. (2011). Gentrification and displacement: The household impacts of neighbourhood change (Rep. No. 160). Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.Google Scholar
  10. Australian Law Reform Commission. (2010). Family violence: A national legal response (ALRC Report 114 (5.167)). Canberra: Australian Government.Google Scholar
  11. Bay, U. (2012). Making a living in diverse rural and remote communities. In J. Maidment & U. Bay (Eds.), Social work in rural Australia: Enabling practice. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  12. Burke, T., & Hulse, K. (2015). Spatial disadvantage: Why is Australia different? AHURI Report. ISBN: 978-1-922075-70-3. Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.Google Scholar
  13. Burke, T., Stone, J., Glackin, S., & Scheurer, J. (2014). Transport disadvantage and low-income rental housing (Positioning paper 157). Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.Google Scholar
  14. Cheshire, L., Pawson, H., Easthope, H., & Stone, W. (2014). Living with place disadvantage: Community, practice and policy (AHURI final report No. 228). Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.Google Scholar
  15. CHP (Council to Homeless Persons). (2015, March). Submission to the Family Violence Royal Commission. Accessed 11 Oct 2015.
  16. Delbosc, A., & Currie, G. (2011). The spatial context of transport disadvantage, social exclusion and well-being. Journal of Transport Geography, 19, 1130–1137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. DIRD (Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development). (2015). State of Australian cities 2014–15, Progress in Australia’s regions. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  18. Dodson, J., & Sipe, N. (2007). Oil vulnerability in the Australian city: Assessing socioeconomic risks from higher urban fuel prices. Urban Studies, 44(1), 37–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. DTPLI (Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure). (2013). Metropolitan planning strategy—Fact sheets: Sources of data. Accessed 12 Sept 2015.
  20. DTPLI (Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure). (2014). Plan Melbourne: Metropolitan planning strategy. Melbourne: Victorian Government.Google Scholar
  21. DTPLI (Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure). (2015). Social atlas of Melbourne Geelong and regional cities. Accessed 11 Oct 2015.
  22. Geldof, D. (2011). New challenges for urban social work and urban social work research. European Journal of Social Work, 14(1), 27–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Green, S. (2015, August 29). Fraying on the fringe: Dealing with disadvantage in Mernda. The Age Newspaper. Accessed 1 Sept 2015.
  24. Hansen, R. (2012). A tale of two Melbournes? The disparities of place and how to bridge the divide, Sambell Oration to the Brotherhood of St Laurence, 27 November 2012. Melbourne: Brotherhood of St Laurence.Google Scholar
  25. Hulse, K., & Pinnegar, S. (2015, January). Housing markets and socio-spatial disadvantage: An Australian perspective. AHURI Report. Accessed 1 Sept 2015.
  26. IFSW (International Federation of Social Workers). (2015). Statement of ethical principles. Accessed 2 Sept 2015.
  27. Kelaher, M., Warr, D. J., Feldman, P., & Tacticos, T. (2010). Living in ‘Birdsville’: Exploring the impact of neighbourhood stigma on health. Health and Place, 16, 381–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kelly, J., Breadon, P., Davis, C., Hunter, A., Mares, P., Mullerworth, D., & Weidmann, D. (2012). Social cities. Melbourne: Grattan Institute.Google Scholar
  29. Kelly, J., Donegan, P., Chisholm, C., & Oberklaid, M. (2014). Mapping Australia’s economy: Cities as engines of prosperity. Melbourne: Grattan Institute.Google Scholar
  30. Murphy, J., Murray, S., Chalmers, J., Martin, S., & Marston, G. (2011). Half a citizen: Life on welfare in Australia. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  31. Nicholson, T. (2014). The future of the community welfare sector, Speech, 27 May 2014. Fitzroy: Brotherhood of St Laurence.Google Scholar
  32. OECD. (2015). Poverty rate (indicator). Accessed 11 Sept 2015.
  33. OSISDC (Outer Suburban/Interface Services and Development Committee). (2012). Inquiry into liveability options in outer suburban Melbourne. Melbourne: Parliament of Victoria.Google Scholar
  34. Parliament of Australia. (2014). Domestic violence in Australia, Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee. Accessed 18 Sept 2015.
  35. Perkins, M. (2015, April 29). Women fleeing violence only able to afford one suburb in Melbourne: Melton. The Age Newspaper, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  36. Phillips, B., Miranti, R., Vidyattama, Y., & Cassells, R. (2013). Poverty, social exclusion and disadvantage in Australia. Canberra: NATSEM.Google Scholar
  37. Royal Commission into Family Violence. (2015). Accessed 18 Sept 2015.
  38. Shaw, I. (2011) Social work research—an urban desert?, European Journal of Social Work, 14:1, 11-26.Google Scholar
  39. Shergold, P. (2013). Service sector reform: A roadmap for community and services reform. Melbourne: Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet and Victorian Council of Social Services.Google Scholar
  40. Smyth, P. (2014). The lady vanishes: Australia’s disappearing voluntary sector, Presentation, Brotherhood of St Laurence, 14 August. Fitzroy: Brotherhood of St Laurence.Google Scholar
  41. Spiller, M. (2014). Social justice and the centralisation of governance in the Australian metropolis: A case study of Melbourne. Urban Policy and Research, 32(3), 361–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Vinson, T., & Rawsthorne, M. (2015). Dropping off the edge 2015: Persistent communal disadvantage in Australia. Australia: Jesuit Social Services and Catholic Social Services.Google Scholar
  43. Whitzman, C. (2014). Urban planning offers path out of domestic violence, Opinion, The Drum, posted 23 April 2014. Accessed 29 Aug 2015.
  44. WHO (World Health Organization). (2015). Violence and injury prevention. Accessed 11 Sept 2015.
  45. Williams, P., Pocock, B., & Bridge, K. (2009). Linked up lives: Putting together work, home and community in ten Australian suburbs. Adelaide: Centre for Work and Life, University of South Australia.Google Scholar
  46. Yates, J., & Berry, M. (2011). Housing and mortgage markets in turbulent times: Is Australia different? Housing Studies, 26(7–8), 1133–1156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sonia Martin
    • 1
  • Robin Goodman
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Global, Urban and Social StudiesRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations