TWO-THIRDS OF HOUSEHOLDS EXPERIENCED FINANCIAL HARDSHIP IN AUSTRALIA IN THE PAST YEAR
Three million Australians live below the poverty line, but the high cost of living has started to creep up to the middle class.
According to the Australian Council of Social Service, almost two-thirds of households experienced financial hardship in the past year.
Many low- to middleincome earners are struggling in a climate of rising utility bills, paired with the stagnation of wages.
The News has spoken with single parents, a pensioner, student and social advocate, who have discussed the impacts the current economic climate is posing for millions of Australians.
ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie has spoken out about the policies and industry drivers at play which have placed many in financial stress.
Dr Goldie said the prices of electricity had increased exponentially in the past decade and a number of government support allowances received by those unable to work fell well below the minimum income required to achieve a basic standard of living.
‘‘People are struggling to pay electricity bills on time, can only afford second-hand clothing and are unable to raise $2000 in an emergency,’’ Dr Goldie said in a statement.
‘‘What is worse is the lowest 20 per cent income group are spending higher proportions of their meagre incomes on housing, food and energy than what they were six years ago.
‘‘There are some clear steps that can be taken immediately by the big energy retailers to protect disadvantaged people.’’
Shepparton Family Care chief executive David Tennant joined the debate and said although the region was not among most disadvantaged communities in Australia, there were still significant challenges and signs of financial distress.
‘‘We all need to be respectful and sensitive and not just lead to the conclusion that people are the architects of their own disadvantage,’’ he said. ●
Sometimes when things get tough, Kyabram mother Liz Pyke will go hungry so her three children are fed.
Ms Pyke, a single mother, is not unemployed, homeless or any other preconception many have about struggling families, but among millions of Australians who forego food in order to pay the bills.
A damning report by McCrindle research, with Foodbank Australia, said an estimated 3.6 million people have experienced food insecurity in the past year.
For three out of five, it is a regular occurrence, forced to go without meals at least once a month.
Ms Pyke said after electricity, gas and mortgage repayments, it can be a monthly struggle of pinching the pennies for food.
As part of her routine, Ms Pyke will scan countless local catalogues for the best specials, before she writes a list of the cheapest products and which supermarkets to find them.
Mr Pyke said there had also been fleeting moments where she had to approach the Salvation Army for help with food in order to survive.
Some weeks she lives from pay to pay, unable to save for the future of her family in a climate of continued rising costs.
‘‘It’s a very stressful feeling, because if anything happens you’ve got no money there to support you,’’ she said.
‘‘I can see why there is so much suicide and depression and parents going off the rails because so many people are under this stress, it doesn’t go away.
‘‘Then you have to maintain a positive mental state for work and the kids, so I think that has a huge toll on parents.’’
Nearly half of households affected include children, mostly under 12.
And it does not affect only those dependent on welfare, with 48 per cent working at least part-time or casual jobs.
Shepparton sole-parent Deborah Caldwell is in a similar situation, working as a welder and taking care of two children under 13.
While she was originally working five days a week, taking care of the children and the house was something which became too much.
Ms Caldwell said by the time bills and fuel were paid for, there was a tiny amount left for food.
This month, she received a $1000 power bill and was now behind on her rent as a result.
She cannot remember the last time she did a big grocery shop and does all of the cooking at home, with no money left over for takeaway or dinners out.
‘‘Most of the time there is nothing left, you’re just living, you’re not enjoying life because all you care about is making ends meet,’’ she said.
‘‘Sometimes I’ve fed the kids but there hasn’t been enough for me. I know a few people like that, they’ll feed the kids and then they’ll go hungry because they don’t have enough.’’
Ms Pyke also received Centrelink payments for the extra support, but often felt she was being punished for doing the right thing.
‘‘I can see why some people don’t work because what they take off you in Centrelink equates to what you’d be getting if you weren’t working,’’ she said.
‘‘The entire system needs an overhaul, from wages to the cost of electricity, even down to bank fees I find unnecessary.
‘‘If those on a low wage received just that little bit more from Centrelink, it would give you more of an incentive to work.’’
Sole parent: Deborah Caldwell.
Single mum: Liz Pyke.
Pensioner: Linda Lyn.
Student: James Miller.
Living frugal: Shepparton mother Deborah Caldwell.
Children first: Kyabram mother Liz Pyke with her three children.