The rising cost of living in Australia is now a daily topic in the media. As I write this, we are all waiting anxiously to see what will be announced in the next Federal Budget. What we already know is that for the approx. 2.65 million Australians living well below the poverty line (according to 2021 statistics), things like one off payments to low- and middle-income earners, and cutting the fuel excise tax, just won’t go far enough.
The cost-of-living increases hit us all, but for people who are already living in poverty, they are forced to make heartbreaking decisions between paying their rent, foregoing medical needs, or buying food. To try and survive on $46 per day is simply not possible. We need to see the Federal Government provide long-term, substantial payment rate increases for the Australians relying on government income supports.
Along with raising the payment rates to enable income support recipients to live above the poverty line, the Government also needs to deal with the ever-growing housing crisis. There is a severe lack of access to appropriate and affordable housing, particularly in Victoria – and for people living below the poverty line it is becoming an impossible mission to find a place to live. We all know changes need to happen and they are long overdue to say the least, but what does all this mean for financial counselling services?
Many agencies are already seeing an increased volume of people seeking assistance. Waitlists are growing again and the demands on us already are heading back to pre-pandemic levels. But if this wasn’t enough, we have seen major increases in consumers accessing Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) facilities, often to pay for essentials. We have seen many clients who have accessed a BNPL to pay for overdue utilities to avoid disconnections or restrictions to service. The economic pressures are mounting and that’s all without the increase to interest rates that economists are all predicting. These are alarming times for our sector.
For its part, the FCVic Board has begun looking at the next three-year strategic plan for the organisation, to ensure FCVic and the Victorian financial counselling sector has sustainable capacity to meet community needs into the future. An initial planning session was held earlier this month with Board members, staff, and representatives from within our membership to commence the process. The strategic planning meeting, facilitated by Chris Kotur, reflected on the outgoing plan while identifying and discussing priorities for our members and sector for the new plan. I would like to thank Chris again for her support to our sector and leading such a valuable session for us and thank the members who joined and participated in the afternoon.