Talking Point: We all have a right to a dignified life (The Mercury Newspaper)

Governments could instigate changes, writes Adrienne Picone.

TasCOSS recently embarked on a series of community forums across Tasmania from Rosebery to Nubeena, 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 had on their health and wellbeing, as well as the broader 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 highly processed food because it was cheaper than fresh fruit and vegetables. Others didn’t use heating because energy and wood costs were too high.

Many spoke of the guilt and shame they felt not always being able to give their kids what they needed and deserved. One person questioned the construction of a new school when the children were going home to sleep in tents.

Affordable housing was the key issue for most, flagging large and unsustainable increases in rent. One person told us a person she knew was now paying $100 just to live in a tin shed because her rent kept going up and up and she couldn’t afford to stay in her home.

People also cut back on trips into town, the supermarket or kids sports and activities because of the cost of fuel and other price rises.

One person summed it up brutally: “It just feels like you have to constantly sacrifice, constantly sacrifice something just to get by. And it’s just surviving.”

We also heard stories of resilience — communities coming together to support and look out for each other. Many are growing their own produce or inviting friends for a meal who they knew wouldn’t otherwise be eating.

It was also clear how crucial community organisations like Neighbourhood Houses are to making sure people can access mental health support, nutritious meals, affordable clothing and vital opportunities for social connection, even if that’s just a cup of tea and a chat.

However, Neighbourhood Houses like many community organisations, are already stretched thin with increased need for services and not enough funding to meet this demand.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. State and federal governments could choose to end this cruel social experiment and ensure everyone is able to live a dignified life through affordable access to the basics including housing, health care, employment and social connection.

We know there’s no easy fix, but we think there are five things governments can do that would make an immediate, tangible difference.

  1. Raise the rate of federal income support payments to above the poverty line.
  2. Introduce minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties to help cut energy costs.
  3. Ensure bus options meet community needs by changing routes and frequency and introducing free travel for all concession card holders, students and older Tasmanians.
  4. Introduce a low income telecommunications concession to cover broadband and internet plans.
  5. Boost resources for Neighbourhood Houses so they can meet growing demand for the essential services they provide.

Of course, there’s more that can and must be done and we’ll have more to say in the lead-up to the next state and federal budgets.

I want to thank the Neighbourhood Houses who generously hosted our forums. The work you do is lifesaving and you’re an essential part of our state’s social and economic support.

But I particularly want to thank the Tasmanians who took the time to share their stories with us. You are strong, but you’re not invincible.

It’s well past time to act. No Tasmanian should be living without the basics.

Adrienne Picone is chief executive of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS).