New research confirms continued cost-of-living pain for struggling Australians

Posted on 18 Jun 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Poverty cost of living poor

A new report has revealed welfare recipients in Australia can’t afford essentials such as food, rent and transport.

The Anglicare Cost of Living Index for June is the latest research to confirm what many sector organisations already know to be true – that Centrelink payments are too low, rental stress is at a record high and services are being inundated with demand by struggling Australians.

The Index found that a family of four with two parents on Centrelink falls short of being able to cover the necessities of daily life by about $17 a week.

The release of the research lends more weight to continued calls by the not-for-profit and charity sector to increase allowances such as JobSeeker.

In the wake of last month’s federal Budget, the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), Cassandra Goldie, lamented Canberra’s decision to ignore expert advice and leave the JobSeeker and Youth Allowance rates untouched.

This was despite the federal government saying that cost-of-living relief for struggling Australians was its top budget priority.

In a comment piece republished in the Community Advocate, Ms Goldie accused the government of tinkering at the edges while ignoring the “gaping hole” in Australia’s safety net.

“Genuine repair requires a substantial boost to the incomes of more than a million people who are trying to survive on JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and related payments of $55 or less a day,” said Ms Goldie.

She said the combined effect of the Budget’s major “cost-of-living measures” (including the promised stage 3 tax cuts) would deliver a mere $6-a-week increase to a single person relying on JobSeeker.

Commenting on the release of the Cost-of-Living Index, Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said the latest statistics confirmed what Australians already know.

“It has never been harder to live on Jobseeker and other Centrelink payments, with living costs spiralling and rent costing more than ever,” said Ms Chambers.

“That’s why Anglicare Australia has been calling for years on the Government to raise the rate of Centrelink payments above the poverty line. These payments have been too low for too long, trapping people in poverty instead of helping them escape it.”

The Index revealed the cost-of-living crisis is continuing to adversely affect Australians of all ages and circumstances:

  • A single parent on the Parenting Payment has just $24 left ($3 a day) after paying for essentials.
  • An individual on JobSeeker living in a share house has just $127 left after essential weekly expenses, or $18 per day. This means they cannot afford to move out of shared accommodation.
  • Housing has emerged as the biggest living cost facing households, with average rents rising by more than 50% since 2020.
“These numbers show us that Australians doing it tough need real action, and real leadership.”
Anglicare executive director Kasy Chambers.

The Anglicare Cost-of-Living Index contained several recommendations, including:

  • raising the rate of income support payments to the Henderson Poverty Line
  • establishing an independent income support payment commission to set and maintain payment rates over the medium and longer-term
  • investing in a long-term program to increase the supply of social and affordable housing by 25,000 dwellings each year
  • working with states and territories to limit rent increases to reasonable levels
  • an urgent increase in funding to emergency relief providers to enable them to meet growing demand for help, especially in the area of rents.

Ms Chambers said the new research confirmed Centrelink payments are not high enough to cover the costs of essentials such as food and rent.

This in turn meant many people are being forced to skip meals, avoid medical care and cram their families into overcrowded homes, with some being pushed into debt spirals just to keep up with everyday costs.

Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers.

“These numbers show us that Australians doing it tough need real action, and real leadership,” said Ms Chambers.

“That means raising the rate of Centrelink payments, ending unlimited increases, and building more social housing.

“We must raise the rate of these payments. Without action, people will be pushed even deeper into hardship, poverty and homelessness.”

On federal Budget night, Treasurer Jim Chalmers went out of his way to emphasis measures designed to provide cost-of-living relief for struggling Australians.

Initiatives aimed at helping those doing it tough revealed in this year’s Budget included:

  • a $300 power bill rebate for more than 10 million households
  • $1.9 billion over five years to increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 10%
  • tax cuts for 13.6 million Australians
  • a $3 billion reduction in student debt for three million Australians
  • a $6.2 billion investment in new housing initiatives

The federal government also recently announced a $4.9 million cash injection for food relief agencies struggling to keep up with unprecedented demand for their services.

The move followed the decision by the Fair Work Commission to increase the minimum wage by 3.75%.

In the conclusion to its Cost-of-Living Index, Anglicare said it had become clear in recent years that many Australians were living too precariously to cope with the shocks brought on by rising living costs.

“It is critical that governments understand this as the underlying problem by taking action to reduce housing costs and tackle rising rates of poverty.

“It is also critical that governments ensure they are not driving more people into crisis by supporting households on the lowest incomes, those on income support, and raising the rate of their payments to the poverty line.”

The report said Australians on low incomes did not create the cost-of-living crisis and therefore should not be asked to bear the brunt.

“Our goal should be to ensure those on the lowest incomes can weather this storm and that the economy that emerges is more fair and more equal, not less.”

More information

Help arrives for Australians with least, but more is needed

Budget brings some relief for struggling Australians

Financially disadvantaged left wanting after federal Budget

High cost of living dictating trends in charitable giving

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