Bring poverty into the open

WinterCommunity service agencies in Launceston – Tasmania’s second largest city – are reporting a significant spike in calls for emergency relief support this year.

St Vincent de Paul Society state president Toni Muir said while it was hard to accurately tally the number of new cases, she estimated that about 35 per cent more people had come through the doors in 2017 seeking support than last year.

Launceston Benevolent Society chief executive John Stuart said his service engaged with about 2000 locals each year and supported half of them at least four times a year.

As part of Anti-Poverty Week, representatives from Uniting Vic.Tas, Launceston City Mission, the Benevolent Society, The Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul, Catholic Care and Anglicare Tasmania held an information session – complete with free food – in the Brisbane Street Mall today to raise awareness of the community’s most vulnerable.

Mr Stuart said poverty remained a hidden issue within the community, many people don’t understand its reach until they are directly impacted.

He said he hoped yesterday’s event would not only help the general public understand the impact but also serve as an important reminder to the state and federal governments.

Recent figures indicate that more than one in four children in Launceston grow up in low income families, with one in five living in a jobless household.

According to the Australian Council of Social Service’s 2016 Poverty in Australia report, the overall risk of poverty is higher in Tasmania than in most other states.

Tasmania’s poverty rate is about 14.2 percent but in some parts it is about 15.3 per cent. That equates to 15,000 Tasmanian children – greater than the entire population of Victorian towns such as Sale, Bacchus Marsh and Morwell – living below the poverty line.

But, it is not only children who are suffering.

Ms Muir said the society was seeing a lot more older people and the lack of job security was having a particular impact. She said many families – who often live from pay to pay – found it difficult if one partner lost their job.

“These are people who are struggling and suddenly find they cannot pay a bill such as their car registration,” she said.

Ms Muir said meeting rent payments remained one of the biggest struggles for families.

“There is some affordable housing but not enough and government housing has extremely long waiting lists.

“They are often trying to work out whether to pay their rent or their electricity.”

She said there was also an increasing number of people seeking help to meet their medical needs.

Anti-Poverty Week concludes on Saturday.


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