Higher welfare payments too little, too late for many in search of cheaper lifestyle
Increased welfare payments will hit bank accounts in coming days but it’s too little, too late for Australians moving across the continent in search of a cheaper lifestyle.
From this Monday, payments such as Jobseeker, aged pension and single parent benefits will rise by about 3.7 per cent, as part of a biannual adjustment to reflect inflation.
It means the age and disability support pension will go up $37 a fortnight for single people, and Jobseeker by $25 a fortnight.
Financial counsellors are warning it’s “a drop in the ocean” for those struggling to pay for food, fuel and utilities amid the highest inflation in more than 30 years.
Broome retiree Lesley Westlake receives a war widow’s pension and will be among those benefiting.
“It is certainly welcome but it still won’t bridge the gap,” she said.
“Especially for those of us living in places like Broome, where the cost of everything – food, fuel, electricity – is already much more than in the city.”
FLEEING TO CHEAPER AREAS
Ms Westlake, 72, owns her apartment in Broome and said she would have to leave the Kimberley region sooner than planned.
“I top up my pension from my savings but that’s not sustainable,” she said.
“The costs up here are significantly higher, for fuel, food and electricity, and I don’t think many people are aware of that.”
Nationally there is no data available on the variation in living costs across Australia. The Consumer Price Index tracks the shift in costs in capital cities, but does not provide an apples-for-apples comparison of what it costs to live in different locations nor does it capture data on regional areas.
But there is evidence northern and remote residents are doing it tougher than city-dwellers. In WA, the Regional Price Index shows northern areas are at least 10 per cent more expensive than Perth.
The Pilbara mining town of Port Hedland is the most expensive in the state — costs there are 25 per cent higher than in the capital.
Veronica Johnson is a financial counsellor at the Circle House community centre in Broome and every day, she deals with an unprecedented backlog of locals facing financial stress.
She knows their pain firsthand: members of her own family had to pack up and leave town in search of a more affordable lifestyle.
BACK TO NATURE
Ms Johnson said some clients were living off 2-minute noodles, and were wracked with guilt about not being able to afford nutritious food for their kids.
“We are flat out with people just basically on the edge — people actually commit suicide due to financial stress,” she said.
“It’s widespread among people who are working … I’m earning reasonable dollars but (I’m) also struggling sometimes.
“I think a lot of the time the prices in the Kimberley are catering to rich tourists and people earning big money mining.”
She said more competition for food shopping options would help, as well as extra subsidies for people living in remote Aboriginal communities.
“Some people are going out fishing and hunting more, because it’s just unaffordable at the community store,” she said.
“So I think the increase in payments will be a drop in the ocean in terms of assisting clients who are in financial stress.”