Increases to the cost of living is hitting Tasmanian families hard, writes Adrienne Picone.
TasCOSS recently held community forums in the North and North-West where we heard from Tasmanians living on low incomes about the rapid rise in the cost of living.
People told distressing stories about what they are forced to go without and the impact this has on their health and wellbeing, as well as the wider community. I’m sharing some of these stories because they highlight the need for urgent action to make life a little easier for the thousands of Tasmanians who can’t make ends meet.
We heard many people skipped meals, or bought junk food because it was cheaper than fresh fruit and vegetables. Others didn’t use heating. Many had teeth removed because that was cheaper than regular dental care. People felt forced into mobile plans they couldn’t always afford so they could access jobs, banking and other services. Many spoke of the guilt and shame they felt not always being able to give their kids what they needed and deserved.
People also cut back on trips into town, which they knew was hurting local businesses. And when the local GP stopped bulk billing, visits to the doctor also stopped.
One person summed it up brutally: “we’re not living, we’re just existing.” We also heard stories of people looking out for each other. One couple invite people for tea who would never accept a donation of food. It was also clear how crucial community organisations like Neighbourhood Houses are to making sure people can eat, afford clothing and have vital opportunities for social connection.
We know there’s a lot that needs to be done to address all the issues, but for starters, here are five things governments can do that would make an immediate, tangible difference.
- Raising the rate of federal Commonwealth income support payments to above the poverty line.
- Introducing minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties to help cut energy costs.
- Ensuring bus options meet community needs by changing routes and frequency and introducing free travel for all concession card holders, students and older Tasmanians.
- Introducing a low income telecommunications concession to cover broadband and internet plans.
- Boosting resources for Neighbourhood Houses so they can meet growing demand for the essential services they provide.
It’s well past time to act.
Adrienne Picone is chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service.