Media release: Poverty on the rise amidst ACT housing crisis

11 August 2021

The number of Canberrans living below the poverty line has increased to an estimated 38,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic, including approximately 9,000 children. Canberra is the most expensive capital city to rent, and the ACT has Australia’s highest rate of rental stress among low-income households.

These are among the key findings of the 2021 ACT Cost of Living Report released today by the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS).

ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell said: “Low-income households are hit hardest by increases in the cost of essential goods and services like housing, food, health, education, and energy.

“Our analysis of ABS CPI data shows that over the past five years Canberrans have seen:

  • electricity prices increase by 27.7%
  • gas prices increase by 26.2%
  • health prices increase by 18.6%
  • education prices increase by 18.0%
  • housing prices increase by 15.7%
  • meat and seafood prices increase by 13.4%
  • fruit and vegetables prices increase by 11.6%.

“Significant price increases for household essentials have made living in Canberra less and less affordable for anyone living on a low wage or receiving JobSeeker at a rate of just $44 a day or $36 a day on Youth Allowance.

“One of the most revealing statistics in this year’s report shows that when the Australian Government introduced the JobKeeper payment and the Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight, poverty rates plummeted across the ACT. The phasing out of these payments saw Canberra’s poverty rates return to and rise above the pre-COVID level.

“This highlights that as a society – through our elected representatives – we are making the choice to leave people in poverty. ACTCOSS continues to call on the Australian Government to fix our social security safety net for good so that it keeps people out of poverty.

“Our report also highlights how a chronic lack of affordable housing over many years has left us with a housing crisis in Canberra. Without significant federal and territory government investment in social housing and better protections for renters, this crisis will continue to worsen, deepening and entrenching poverty, disadvantage and homelessness in our community. Again, these are the choices our society makes.”

Dr Campbell concluded: “This Anti-Poverty Week (17-23 October) we will be reminding governments that there are two key things they can do to unlock poverty for individuals, families, and children: raise income support above the poverty line and invest in social housing.”

Quote from Bec Cody, CEO of Mental Health Community Coalition ACT

“Financial insecurity is one of the biggest causes of mental ill health. Financial stress, job insecurity, poverty and homelessness are all triggers that damage people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

Quote from Carmel Franklin, CEO of Care

“Care works with people experiencing financial hardship. With increasing costs of living more people are having to make really tough choices – rent or food, mortgage payment or car registration, electricity bill or medical costs. Everybody deserves an adequate income, affordable housing, and an effective safety net in terms of concessions and other hardship supports.”

Quote from Travis Gilbert, CEO of ACT Shelter

“ACT Shelter has long expressed concern about a two-tiered housing market in the Territory. For households on higher incomes, home purchase and median asking rents appear relatively affordable on paper. For households on low-to-moderate incomes however, it’s a very different story. RBA data tells us their household incomes have not kept pace with CPI in recent years, while this cost-of-living report confirms two of the biggest expense items – housing costs and utilities – continue to increase above the rate of inflation. For a growing number of Canberrans renting privately, the market is failing to supply homes at price points they can afford. There is an urgent need to increase both direct investment and in-kind contributions in social and affordable housing solutions beyond current commitments, particularly for working Canberrans who receive no rent assistance from the Commonwealth.”

Quote from Cathi Moore AM, President of Parentline ACT

“ACT families face the highest rents in Australia and we have the highest rate of rental stress among low-income private rental households at 73%. Housing stress and homelessness were already significant before the COVID-19 pandemic. Parentline ACT has seen a 30% increase in calls since the beginning of COVID-19, with many clients experiencing housing crises and financial distress. Over the past 18 months Canberra has seen a significant increase in clients accessing specialist homelessness services and all indications suggest that this year’s Census will record a rise in homelessness in the ACT since 2016. We need to see far more investment in social housing, including community housing, to address our chronic lack of affordable housing and to reduce homelessness in our nation’s capital.”

Quote from Barnie van Wyck, CEO of St Vincent de Paul Canberra/Goulburn

“The number of people living below the poverty line in the ACT can fill the GIO Stadium one and a half times – is this acceptable in the ACT as one of the most affluent cities in the world? The narrative for housing in the ACT has changed from ‘affordability’ to ‘crisis’ and the action required should be commensurate. We need to address the current shortfall of 3,100 social housing dwellings and the projected need of 8,500 additional dwellings by 2036, or otherwise plan to address the resulting social costs of under supply.”

Find the 2021 ACT Cost of Living Report here.

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