The number of homeless and struggling families in Victoria is growing rapidly, according to some of Australia’s leading researchers and economists.
A panel discussion held at Prahran Town Hall on Tuesday examined housing affordability and the impact of rising living costs on Victorian families.
The event was organised by Uniting Vic.Tas to mark the launch of their Winter Breakfast program and the panel was moderated by former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Professor Alan Fels.
Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Paul Linossier said enquiries to Uniting Vic.Tas emergency relief centres have increased significantly over the past 12 months, with more Victorians requiring food aid, vouchers and child education support.
“In the last financial year, our service centre in Ringwood alone had over 10,000 instances of families and individuals presenting at our service – many coming in for the first time,” he said.
“In the past three years we have seen an average increase in requests of approximately 10 percent annually across our crisis and homelessness services.”
Mr Linossier said rising rental costs, coupled with wage stagnation, are putting a strain on household budgets.
Approximately 22 percent of children in Australia have experienced food insecurity in the past 12 months.
“The knock-on effect is that people simply can’t afford to buy food or pay their energy bills,” Mr Linossier said.
“Our very real fear, backed up by numerous surveys and research reports, is that the growing pressure on housing affordability will force increasing numbers of Victorians into severe financial hardship and homelessness.”
Panel member Professor Roslyn Russell, Principal Research Fellow at the RMIT University School of Economics, said financial hardship can contribute to physical and mental illnesses, especially for single parents and vulnerable women.
“Addressing the causes of financial hardship will help break the cycle of poverty, depression, anxiety, stress and ill health,” Prof Russell said.
“Overwhelmingly the most at-risk group of spiraling into financial hardship and experiencing the associated negative individual and social impacts is sole parents – of whom the majority are women.”
Prof Russell said financial hardship is an indicator of financial abuse – a form of family violence and experienced by an estimated 16 percent of women in Australia.
Another panel member Jeff Oughton, the former head of Australian Economics and Industry Intelligence at NAB, said Australia’s wealth does not reflect the severe financial stress experienced by the growing number of Australians living on the margins.
According to Mr Oughton, 15 percent of renters spend more than 60 percent of their income on rent.
The Winter Breakfast program provides a free hot meal to those most in need and runs from June to August.
Image: Emma King/Twitter