FAMILIES DO IT TOUGHER
Stressed households turning to charities for support
HOUSEHOLD debt in the Clarence Valley is reflecting the alarming figures revealed nationally in the latest report on income wealth and expenditure.
Local support agencies like Anglicare and neighbourhood centres are reporting a big increase in the number of people to coming to them for support because they cannot afford to buy food for themselves or their families.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics Household Income, Wealth and Expenditure Survey found the average amount of debt has almost doubled in the past 12 years – from $94,100 in 2003-04 to $168,600 in 2015-16.
While property debt accounted for most of this numbers in the national figures, local agencies point to big increases in cost of living driving the increase in household debt stress.
The executive director of Anglicare North Coast, Estelle Graham, said between January and June this year her organisation had given assistance to 320 individuals or families.
“Most of them are coming to us for help because they cannot afford to buy food,” she said.
Ms Graham said rising energy prices were the main culprit behind the increasing debt stress people were facing.
But she said other factors such as the sudden onset of medical problems could tip people over the edge.
“The medical costs are covered, but things like transport to see a specialist or to get treatment can push low income families over the edge,” Ms Graham said.
Michelle Burns, from the Consortium of Neighbourhood Centres, said the problem big increases in cost of living expenses like electricity allied to stagnant wage growth was putting pressure on households.
“People are using their credit cards to pay a power bill, then have nothing when they come to put food on the table,” she said.
“The explosion of people using pay day loans to cover these times is creating even worse household debts.”
Ms Burns said all her agency’s clients lived from pay cheque to pay cheque.
“They have no idea what it’s like to put $10 aside and let it grow,” she said.
“They just need all the money they’ve got to live day to day.
“They spend huge amounts on things like transport to get around, because there is so little public transport.”
Ms Burns said other issues, like financial violence, stemmed from lack of income.
“People with low incomes find it stressful trusting their partners to spend the money on the right things,” she said.
She said the take up of services like food banks, which provided low cost groceries to low income people was also an indication people were doing it tough.
“We have people who we know have been using the service for a while, but we’re now seeing people coming here we’ve never seen before,” Ms Burns said.
But it was not all bad news for households.
“There are strategies people can use to help themselves in tough times and some power companies (hardship teams) are willing to help out struggling customers,” Ms Burns said.
“People can stock up on the groceries at the food bank for next to nothing, then only use the supermarket to top up on things.”