Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

More than two in three financially disadvantaged households in New England were unable to pay their utility bills on time in the last 12 months, according to new research.

The bleak findings are from peak advocacy body NCOSS’ latest Cost of Living in NSW 2023 research, undertaken by the University of Technology Sydney. It also reported that 46 per cent of New England Households reported being in housing stress, defined as spending more than 30 per cent of your income on housing.

The survey was undertaken in April and May of this year, involving a representative sample of 1,134 households living on low incomes and below the poverty line in regions across NSW.

NCOSS CEO Joanna Quilty said the survey reveals just how tough life is for low income and below the poverty line households in New England right now.

“These figures are stark and show the extent to which households are being hammered on multiple fronts,” Ms Quilty said.

“These are households who, in the main, are working and who are doing everything they can to cut costs and keep their heads above water.

“But the compounding effects of COVID-19, sky-high inflation, successive disasters and flatlining wages have had a devastating impact – pushing many to breaking point.”

Key findings for New England include: 

  • 83 per cent report having no money set aside for emergencies.
  • 70 per cent have used ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ (BNPL) services to afford essentials, and 48 per cent have used BNPL services to afford essential goods three or more times in the past year.
  • 48 per cent reported being unable to travel for essential reasons due to cost.
  • 41 per cent have gone without prescribed medication or healthcare.

The survey exposes the steps people are taking just to get by.

“We knew things were bad, but this is the worst we’ve seen in many years.”

“And the impacts are showing through the increased stress and strain that relationships are under and families are experiencing,” Ms Quilty said.

“People are hanging on by a knife edge – savings have been eaten away, the use of Buy Now Pay Later is more prevalent and borrowing from family and friends is a growing necessity. “

Ms Quilty said NCOSS has put forward a set of recommendations to the NSW Government, developed in consultation with NCOSS members.

“Our recommendations are aimed at tackling the underlying causes of the cost-of-living crisis – most notably energy bills and housing affordability – and providing immediate relief,” Ms Quilty said.

Some of the key recommendations put forward include:

  • Improve the impact of NSW Government cost-of-living initiatives including permanently increasing EAPA vouchers to $2,000 pa and making the Low Income Household Rebate a fixed percentage of a person’s energy bill.
  • Build an additional 5,000 social housing residences each year, targeting  unmet needs such as overcrowding for culturally diverse communities, and groups at greatest risk of homelessness.
  • Improve conditions and protections for NSW renters by urgently implementing: limits on rental increases so they are fair and reasonable; no-grounds evictions; and the elimination of rental bidding.
  • Strengthen the social service sector by developing a consistent approach to annual indexation that covers the real cost of service provision, and enhancing capacity of essential programs facing overwhelming demand. 

Ms Quilty said that community organisations on the frontline consistently report that they cannot keep up with demand, and that the needs of their communities are becoming more complex.

“New cohorts of people are appearing at their doors – families with two incomes who used to get by, but have now drained their savings and cannot put food on the table.”

“The NSW Government cannot quickly solve this crisis, but it can alleviate its most extreme impacts and help those who are doing everything they can to survive but have nothing left to give.”

For more information, and to read the full report, visit ncoss.org.au

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