ACTCOSS releases 2023 ACT Cost of Living Report

22 June 2023

Living costs in the ACT have reached their highest levels in twenty years, and women are disproportionately facing the effects of these increases – these are the latest findings in the 2023 ACT Cost of Living Report, released today by the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS).

The report, which tracks the changes in the cost of living for low-income households in the ACT, highlights the gendered nature of the cost of living crisis and calls on the ACT Government to implement measures in the upcoming ACT Budget to alleviate cost of living pressures and address income inequality.

The report by ACTCOSS shows particularly high increases in the costs of fuel, energy and housing over the past five years. While all income support payments except the Age Pension remain below the poverty line, the purchasing power of people in full time work is now also greatly reduced. This is consistent with the experiences of the community sector seeing more people in full time work seeking support.

ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Devin Bowles said: “The community sector continues to see increased demand for support and services. Rising costs of living are having a serious impact on Canberrans on low incomes.

“This year the ACT Cost of Living Report is focused on the gendered impacts of poverty and inequality. Women are more likely to be reliant on government support payments because gendered norms about caring responsibilities and considerable barriers to employment remain, which puts them at higher risk of experiencing poverty.

“Single mothers, domestic and family violence victim-survivors, disabled, older and LGBTQIA+ women and other marginalised women are far more likely to be struggling with living costs,” Dr Bowles concluded.

Care Financial Counselling Service CEO, Carmel Franklin said: “Over recent months there has been a steady increase in the number of calls to the National Debt Helpline. Most callers are experiencing cost of living challenges. This could be in the form of mortgage stress, rent arrears, energy hardship or reliance on credit cards and buy now pay later products to pay for essential household goods.

“Nearly 60% of people accessing Care’s services are women, primarily single mothers and older single women with limited resources. Of concern is the prevalence of domestic and family violence and specifically financial abuse. This group is particularly susceptible to financial hardship and at risk of homelessness.”

Kariyna House CEO, Lavinia Tyrrel said: “The cost-of-living challenges highlighted by ACTCOSS are being acutely felt by women who are pregnant and parenting newborns in the ACT and are in crisis. Most women we support have experienced a history of trauma, domestic or family violence, homelessness or housing insecurity, income stress and mental health challenges. Since Christmas alone, we have seen more women refer to us with housing as their primary need. We have also seen women returning to our service for assistance as they come under financial stress due to rising cost of essentials (fuel, food, rent).

“Poverty is both a cause and an outcome of the structural inequities women face during the perinatal period. The recommendations proposed by ACTCOSS are a good step towards addressing these challenges, and they must also be implemented from a gendered lens. The particular and intersecting vulnerabilities faced by women who are pregnant or parenting – such as affordable childcare and providing housing options that are appropriate for women with babies and small children – must be taken into account in policy responses.”

YWCA Canberra Chief Operating Officer, Cara Jacobs also noted that: “The Cost-of-Living report provides strong insight into the pressures that are being felt across Canberra. Frontline services like YWCA Canberra are witnessing this in real time as more and more people, many of whom have never had to draw upon charity or community services, approach our organisation for help.

“We have seen a doubling in demand for our Lanyon food pantry over the last year, as pensioners, single parents and low-income earners try to manage increasingly tight budgets.

“We join ACTCOSS and the community sector in calling on the ACT Government to review the adequacy of the targeted assistance measures and to take steps to build an adequate supply of social and affordable housing that supports the diverse needs of Canberrans.”

Women with Disabilities ACT CEO, Kat Reed said: “Women* with disabilities bear a disproportionate burden of poverty in the ACT and throughout Australia and are recognised as amongst the poorest of all groups. Women* with disabilities are more likely to experience unemployment than their male peers, are more likely to experience insecure housing and homelessness, are overrepresented in public housing and in the lowest earning bracket.

“In addition, women* with disabilities are more likely to have multiple health conditions and are more likely to spend more of their income on medical expenses than men with disabilities. In the ACT, many women* with disabilities have no choice but to spend money on travel interstate for specialist appointments. Safe, accessible and affordable health care for women* with disabilities is urgently needed to ease the burden of poverty for women* with disabilities in the ACT.

“Lastly, women* with disabilities are twice as likely to experience violence than women* without disabilities. They are also less likely to have the financial independence to seek safety.”

*women, girls & non-binary people with disabilities

For the 2023-23 ACT Budget, ACTCOSS calls on the ACT Government to:

  1. Review and update the Targeted Assistance Strategy.
  2. Expand social and affordable housing.
  3. Fund the community sector for the full cost of service delivery.
  4. Provide cheaper and easier to access healthcare.
  5. Address the gendered nature of income inequality.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations. Follow us @ACTCOSS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Devin Bowles, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0423 435 080,
Carmel Franklin, CEO, Care Financial Counselling Service on 02 6257 1788,
Lavinia Tyrrel, CEO, Karinya House on 0412 670 966,
Cara Jacobs, Chief Operating Officer, YWCA Canberra on 0400 487 471,
Kat Reed, CEO, Women with Disabilities ACT on 0412 094 757.

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