The Rise of Financial Stress

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A word from our Acting CEO, Brad Webb

I read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald recently about the rise of financial stress.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released this month suggest overall price rises were low during 2017, 1.9 per cent. However, there were sharp rises in the prices of essentials such as electricity (which rose by 12.4 per cent over the year), hospital services (5.4 per cent) and secondary education (4.1 per cent). Wage growth over the year was 2 per cent.

I asked Emergency Services Welfare Caseworker, John Barham, to share his experiences of the impact of financial stress on the people we support at Samaritans.

It’s not only power bills going through the roof, I’d say the biggest issue we see the absence of affordable housing for people on benefits. There are people paying $600 per fortnight for their rent and that consumes their entire benefit payment. What is there left to live on?

Cheaper housing is scarce; we’ve supported people living in caravan parks but in the areas we service (Lake Macquarie), they’re all full.

Education is a key role of our team. We encourage budgeting and a vital service we refer to is financial counselling. I work through bills with our clients to help them understand how they can make changes and save. For example, we spend a lot of time talking to people about how they might be able to save money using off peak electricity. Even education on the ‘Rent to Buy’ products is important. We did some analysis and a $1200 fridge can end up costing $4000.

At the end of the day, for many it’s about recognising the cost of rent versus benefits like Newstart. Without cheaper housing or an increased benefit, these people have no money to spend on other necessities or for emergencies and they get stuck in a debt cycle. Each day we do everything we can to help and educate people on the best ways to survive on their income.”

Samaritans provides Emergency Relief services including assistance with food, utility bills and financial counselling and other referral. Locations can be found here.