Jennifer Scattini hardly leaves her house and it is not because she is antisocial or anxious about going outside.
- Welfare groups say election promises will do little to help the most vulnerable
- A new report finds 11.8 per cent of Australians are living in poverty
- It recommends lifting Jobseeker and rent assistance payments
The pensioner simply does not have any money left after paying for rent, groceries, bills and diabetes medication out of her fortnightly income of $1,133.
“The only reason I stay home is because if you stay home, you don’t spend anything,” she says.
“And I am wondering how many other people are locked in their house.”
Ms Scattini, who described the rising cost of living as “very scary”, has calculated her weekly shop down to the last dollar, but still goes to bed hungry most nights.
The 73-year-old tries to stay on a healthy diet to manage her diabetes but struggles to afford fresh fruit and vegetables.
Ms Scattini, who lives on the coast south of Perth, was already struggling to make ends meet living on the pension before her rent went up to $640 a fortnight.
“My rent went up by $70 a fortnight and I’ve now only got about $70 or $80 a fortnight for food.”
She doesn’t blame her landlord, saying the government should increase rent assistance to reflect the fact “rents have gone through the roof”.
“They really have to look at the realistic prices of rent and make the rental assistance comparable so that people can still at least eat,” she said.
She said neither of the major political parties had announced anything in their pre-election promises that would help her financially.
Housing affordability policies wheeled out by both major parties would not help her, because there was no way she could scrape together even a small deposit for a home, she said.
While she has been a Liberal voter all her life, she still doesn’t know who she will vote for in the coming federal election.
More people seeking help from charities
A soup kitchen run by charity Halo in Mandurah, south of Perth, has been helping an extra 10 clients each week on average as a result of the rising cost of living.
Volunteer Steve Reynolds said the lack of affordable rentals and social housing in the area is the key, underlying problem.
“That’s what it all boils down to,” Mr Reynolds said.
Homeless couple Geraldine Hansen and Matthew Skipper, who are regulars at the soup kitchen, said they have been on the public housing waiting list for about five years.
Both living on the Jobseeker allowance, they have noticed the increase in the price of food lately.
While Mr Skipper said he would probably vote for “ScoMo”, Ms Hansen said she hadn’t made up her mind who she is voting for on May 21.
“I don’t know at the moment, but whoever wins I just hope they just help most of the homeless out to get accommodation,” Ms Hansen said.
Election campaign promises amount to ‘window dressing’
Both parties have announced policies to relieve cost-of-living pressures but it’s all just “window dressing” for society’s most vulnerable, according to Anglicare WA chief executive Mark Glasson.
Mr Glasson wants to see an increase in the Jobseeker rate and a doubling of the Commonwealth rent assistance payment for low-income tenants.
“None of the major parties have committed to those initiatives and those are the things we really need,” he said.
“For a single person getting the maximum rental assistance, they can get $76 a week. The median rent in Perth at the moment is $480,” he said.
Anglicare WA had seen a rise in demand for its service across the board since the pandemic struck, but Mr Glasson said the biggest growth area had stemmed from private renters.
“There’s not an understanding in Canberra of the level of difficulty that is being experienced by more and more people in our community,” Mr Glasson said.
Both parties falling short: economist
A recent report by the Bankwest Economics Center found rising rent prices during the pandemic had left 1.5 million Australians living in poverty, with the poorest families trying to survive on less than $150 a week after housing costs.
It found 11.8 per cent of the population, including 750,000 children, were living in poverty.
An increase of 30 per cent in the Commonwealth rent assistance maximum payment along with a $140 per week increase in the base Jobseeker rate and related payments would protect up to 1 million people from rising rents and the high cost of living, it stated.
The report’s author, Alan Duncan, said there had been a lot of “sentiment” from both political parties to highlight cost of living as a key issue during the election campaign.
He said measures put forward by the Coalition, such as the halving of the fuel excise, the one-off $250 payment to pensioners and jobseekers and the $420 tax offset, would only offer “temporary” relief to people.
“On the Labor side, there isn’t anything which really directly addresses cost of living pressures apart from cheaper childcare and the perennial commentary [around] … reducing red tape for businesses and more support for TAFE courses,” he said.
Both parties had failed well short in their commitments to invest in social housing, he said.
“It’s disappointing there’s been no discussion around whether or not the Commonwealth rent assistance maximum payment is adequate.”
Therefore, he said there was little relief being offered to Ms Scattini, who is bracing for another rent rise in the next few weeks.
She does everything she can to keep a roof over her head, including keeping her rental immaculate.
When she recently inquired about social housing, she was told she “might not be alive by the time I get to the top of the list”.
As a wife, mother and part-time worker, she didn’t get much super and so she’s pinning her hopes on whoever wins government to make life a bit easier for herself and those who are even worse off.
So far, she says she’s seen little in the campaign that’s given her much hope.