Thousands of Australians are struggling to keep up with everyday living expenses, one in three of whom are paying more than two-thirds of their income on rent.
The Salvation Army, while acknowledging that the Federal Budget handed down on Tuesday night contains some positive initiatives, said it failed to deliver on one of the biggest drivers of poverty and disadvantage in the country—the cost of housing.
Every day, The Salvation Army sees thousands of Australians struggling to keep up with everyday living expenses, one in three of whom are paying more than two-thirds of their income on rent.
“For those who rely on Newstart or Youth Allowance to survive, the picture is even worse with some paying 80 per cent or more to keep a roof over their head," said Captain Jason Davies-Kildea, a principal Salvation Army social policy manager. “Under these conditions, it is no surprise that the number of people falling into homelessness has been increasing.”
The Salvation Army’s National Head of Government Relations, Major Brad Halse, said budgets are how governments make choices that reflect their values. Canada recently put a $40 billion 10-year plan behind their vision to tackle homelessness and housing affordability, he said, and New Zealand has just announced a $100 million injection to get all their rough sleepers housed before winter.
“Many of our states are doing their best with the resources at their disposal,”said Major Halse. “However, the problems we are experiencing in housing and homelessness must be driven by a national strategy, using the levers available to the Commonwealth Government and ensuring that funding is available that meets the scale of need both now and into the future. Last year’s promising beginning in housing investment appears to have been a one-off, rather than the much-needed starting point for the future.”
In The Salvation Army’s 2018-19 budget submission, it called on the government to: develop a comprehensive and long-term strategy to address homelessness and housing affordability; commit to 200,000 new units of social housing; and increase the Newstart Allowance by at least $75 per week. None of these measures, which would make a real difference to the people who seek our help every day, are present in the budget, said The Salvation Army.
“While some low-income earners gain a little from taxation changes in this budget, there’s nothing for those surviving on the lowest income support payments,”said Captain Davies-Kildea. “It’s this group who are most in need, who are driven by desperation to the doors of The Salvation Army for help, but who are judged as undeserving by our government.”
The Salvation Army said there were some positive elements announced in the Budget, including: An extra 14,000 home care packages for the aged, over four years; an increase of nearly $340 million in mental health funding; and the establishment of an anti-slavery unit, committing $3.6 million, over four years.
However, Captain Davies-Kildea has also noted new areas of concern.
“Given the debacle of Centrelink’s “robodebt” recovery system, the extension of welfare “crackdowns”, which have already proven to be misdirected, seems to be an unnecessary targeting of already vulnerable people,”he said.
“About 10 per cent, or almost 30,000 people, who seek help from homelessness services each year are receiving no income at all when they first come to the service—an example of the consequences of ‘welfare reform’.”
Another concern for The Salvation Army is the mandatory recouping of fine repayments, which is likely to see people who are marginally housed move further towards homelessness.
“People shouldn’t have to make a choice between having food in the cupboard or keeping the electricity on,”said Captain Davies-Kildea. “While the government extracts their penalties from the little you have left, even these choices are going to evaporate and we will see more people on the doorsteps of The Salvation Army.”
This article first appeared in Others Magazine