Government inquiry hears desperate stories of Australians living below poverty line, struggling to rent
Migrant advocates and community groups have called on the federal government to do more to address the housing crisis that threatens to push more Australians below the poverty line.
Community leaders and support workers have told a Senate inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty that people are priced out of rent and have to choose between skipping meals and medicine to keep a roof over their heads.
Paul Huy Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese community in Australia, said migrants and refugees were overrepresented in the ratio of people struggling to get rent or make their mortgage payments.
He hit out at “each and every” government that failed to prioritize the problem.
He warned that while governments have promised to open up more visas for migrants, there are limited options to house them.
“There is a lack of fundamental accommodation,” he told the inquiry.
According to Domain’s last available set of data, the average vacancy rate across the country was 0.8 percent in November – which experts warn could further tighten due to the return of overseas students.
Camera icon Lower income individuals and families are priced out of rent. NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper Credit: News Corp Australia
Anglicare executive director Kasy Chambers said the nature of inequality was changing, and the poverty gap – the gap between the average income of those below the poverty line and the poverty line itself – was growing.
“The face of poverty is changing. There are families who have access to one or two incomes that still face poverty,” she said.
“And housing comes up over and over again (as a big issue for our clients). It is out of reach for so many people.
“(Research) consistently shows there is no affordable rent for people and families on state welfare.”
As higher earners bid against low-income individuals or families in the same dwindling rental market, people are left with no choice but to cut money from elsewhere in their budgets to keep a roof over their heads.
The inquest was told that one family was able to pay the $700-a-week asking price for a rental, but the owners instead accepted a much higher offer of $900 from another family.
Camera IconAnglicare says many Australians are forced to choose between buying medicine, groceries or paying their rent. NCA NewsWire / David Crosling Credit: News Corp Australia
Ms Chambers said the cost of living crisis was putting unprecedented pressure on Australian families.
“We hear from parents who hold children back from school towards the end of their pay cycle because they can’t afford to put anything in their lunch boxes and want to avoid the stigma,” she said.
“They think about how many meals they can miss per week.
“It has a huge impact on housing because it is the least elastic part of any budget.
“People are dropping their car insurance, giving up preventive health items, not exchanging prescriptions, not going to the dentist (so they can afford rent) … People are really in need.”
Camera icon The inquiry heard from community leaders and welfare advocates who called on the government to do more to tackle the housing crisis. NCA NewsWire / Jeremy Piper Credit: News Corp Australia
Her colleague Brad Braithwaite said there was a sense of hopelessness as costs rose in all sectors.
“The rise in the cost of living has become an existential crisis for many people that also has mental health effects,” he said.
“Even working people find themselves at or below the poverty line. It’s like seeing people on a life raft anchored to a rising tide.”
He said that governments at all levels must invest heavily to address housing issues.
Ismet Tastan, co-chair of the Democratic Kurdish Community Center of NSW, said if governments did not do more to tackle rising poverty and the housing crisis, it could lead to an increase in crime.
“And if we do nothing, it will cause more trauma and more crimes and affect communities,” he said.