Stressed house­holds turn­ing to char­i­ties for sup­port

The Daily Examiner - - FRONT PAGE - tim.howard@dai­lyex­am­iner.com.au Tim Howard

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.”

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