Fam­i­lies un­der pres­sure

THE STRUG­GLE TO MAKE ENDS MEET IS NO LONGER RE­STRICTED TO LOWER-IN­COME FAM­I­LIES

Shepparton News - - NEWS - By Rhi­an­non Tuffield

Ev­ery­day liv­ing ex­penses have be­come more dif­fi­cult or even im­pos­si­ble to main­tain for reg­u­lar fam­i­lies, ac­cord­ing to a Shep­par­ton fam­ily sup­port or­gan­i­sa­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive.

For the first time in decades, the ex­pense has spanned from an is­sue unique to lower-in­come fam­i­lies, to some­thing even those on a sta­ble, mid­dle-tier wage are now strug­gling to meet.

Speak­ing off the back of An­tiPoverty Week last week, Shep­par­ton Fam­ily Care chief ex­ec­u­tive David Ten­nant said ris­ing en­ergy, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion, trans­port and food prices had caused many fam­i­lies to strug­gle to make ends meet.

Paired with the ris­ing costs, he said there had also been a stag­na­tion of wage lev­els for a long pe­riod of time.

‘‘I have seen a trend where peo­ple have gone from be­ing com­fort­able to in a cri­sis and they don’t have the skills to deal with that,’’ Mr Ten­nant said.

‘‘I think it’s been a very long and slow build to get to that point, but prob­a­bly in the past 18 months to two years the pres­sures have re­ally built up on low- to mod­er­atein­come fam­i­lies.’’

Real wage in­creases in the past five years, tak­ing into ac­count the cost of liv­ing, have av­er­aged half of what they did in the pre­ced­ing decade, ac­cord­ing to a Trea­sury re­port pub­lished this year.

Fewer than 10 per cent of work­ers have ex­pe­ri­enced wage growth of four per cent or more, mak­ing it the low­est level since 2000.

And Mr Ten­nant said there were far-reach­ing con­se­quences which stemmed be­yond an in­abil­ity to af­ford food or keep a light on.

Although poorly un­der­stood, Mr Ten­nant said there were mul­ti­ple stud­ies which drew par­al­lels be­tween fi­nan­cial stress and the in­ci­dence of in­ti­mate part­ner vi­o­lence, poor men­tal and phys­i­cal health out­comes and the healthy devel­op­ment of chil­dren into adults.

‘‘I be­lieve the health and well­be­ing of in­di­vid­ual fam­i­lies and pop­u­la­tions are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to whether you are also feel­ing in good fi­nan­cial health,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m not say­ing that the links are causal, but they’re def­i­nitely highly-cor­re­lated. If fi­nances are un­der pres­sure and there is stress around that, there are lots of other things that will be out of whack as well.’’

Of­fi­cial ABS sta­tis­tics show the cost of elec­tric­ity has gone up by 90 per cent in the past 10 years, wa­ter by 64 per cent, gas by 60 per cent, ed­u­ca­tion by 31 per cent and med­i­cal and hospi­tal by 38 per cent.

Mr Ten­nant said the bank­ing, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and en­ergy in­dus­tries were less fit-for-pur­pose now than they were a decade ago, and that gov­ern­ment re­stric­tions on ben­e­fit pay­ments were cre­at­ing prob­lems which cost much more.

‘‘In a sense, busi­ness is do­ing what busi­ness needs to do to grow and be prof­itable, but if you want to en­sure that it in­ter­acts with the com­mu­nity fairly, you need to put in rea­son­able rules around be­hav­iour and they don’t work as well as they should in many key in­dus­tries for es­sen­tials,’’ he said.

‘‘In terms of gov­ern­ment, there are those long-term, slow-build health or so­cial prob­lems that lead peo­ple to re­quire on­go­ing sup­port if they don’t have enough money to sur­vive on prop­erly.’’

While Mr Ten­nant be­lieved Greater Shep­par­ton was an area where there were el­e­vated signs of dis­ad­van­tage and chal­lenges, the re­gion still had great strengths.

He said com­mu­ni­ties could ben­e­fit from an on­go­ing sup­port sys­tem which could be as sim­ple as men­tal health first aid or ad­di­tional sup­port for fam­i­lies and acted as a pre­ven­tion for con­se­quen­tial is­sues of fi­nan­cial hard­ship.

Mr Ten­nant said key ben­e­fits, par­tic­u­larly the NewS­tart Al­lowance, were too low.

‘‘For the peo­ple who do it the hard­est, the main mes­sage is we all need to be re­spect­ful and sen­si­tive and not just lead to the con­clu­sion that peo­ple are ar­chi­tects of their own dis­ad­van­tage,’’ Mr Ten­nant said.

‘‘The sec­ond part of it is we also need to stop mak­ing it harder for those peo­ple in de­sign­ing a re­sponse to help.’’

‘‘There has been an un­for­tu­nate con­ver­sa­tion for a num­ber of years sug­gest­ing peo­ple who are do­ing it tough have that ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause they’re some­how in­ca­pable of act­ing oth­er­wise or they’ve caused their own prob­lems. In the over­whelm­ing num­ber of cir­cum­stances, that is not true. It’s not true to­day, and it hasn’t been true in the past, we need to stop blam­ing the poor for be­ing poor. It’s easy some­times in a lucky coun­try like Aus­tralia to think that poverty is an at­ti­tude rather than a re­al­ity. We need to keep in­vest­ing in sup­port sys­tems that gen­uinely help peo­ple that are dis­ad­van­taged.’’ — DAVID TEN­NANT SHEP­PAR­TON FAM­ILY CARE CHIEF EX­EC­U­TIVE

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