Canberra is facing its worst cost-of-living crisis in more than 20 years, a new report released by ACTCOSS has revealed.
ACTCOSS has outlined a series of recommendations to the Federal and Territory governments to alleviate the impact of rising living costs on lower-income households. These include reviewing the ACT’s Targeted Assistance Strategy, which is now more than a decade old, and introducing new measures such as trialling free public transport and introducing an income-based approach to ACT Government fines.
ACTCOSS also recommends expanding social and affordable housing and setting a target for zero homelessness; funding the community sector; ensuring accessible and affordable healthcare; raising the rate of income support payments; and taking a holistic approach to tackling inflation.
This year’s report also focuses on the impact of poverty and income inequality on women and calls on the government to ensure conversations about cost-of-living pressures are tied to conversations about gender equality.
The report has highlighted significant increases in the prices of essential goods in the ACT.
Over the past five years, automotive fuel prices have risen 37 per cent, electricity prices are 25 per cent higher, and transport costs are up 23 per cent.
Other key items and services that have risen drastically over the past five years include housing (21 per cent), education (20 per cent), medical services (19 per cent) and food (18 per cent).
“The 2023 report demonstrates in clear detail what many Canberrans already know: we are experiencing, as a community, a cost of living crisis,” said Devin Bowles, CEO of ACTCOSS.
“In fact, the cost of living is higher now than at any point since the Australian Bureau of Statistics began making the relevant calculation in 1999.
“Canberra is a relatively wealthy community and many people are comparatively able to bear increases in the cost of living. But our average wealth hides the fact that almost 10 per cent of Canberrans live in poverty,” Dr Bowles added.
This has put considerable pressure on the community sector, and ACTCOSS has urged the Territory Government to address the chronic lack of funding and engagement in community services.
A recent ACTCOSS survey found that 80 per cent of community sector organisations do not find their ACT Government funding adequate while, at the same time, demand for their services continues to rise, and there is a growing complexity of need among service users.
This year’s report focuses on the impact rising living costs are having on women. On a national level, women are more likely to be in poverty than men, and women in the ACT earn, on average, $200 less per week than men.
Single-parent families, which are more often headed by women, are also more likely to experience poverty, joblessness and homelessness. The report noted that 20 per cent of one-parent families in the ACT are jobless.
The CEO of Karinya House, Lavinia Tyrrel, highlighted the effect of the cost-of-living crisis on women who are pregnant or parenting, who are often already in a vulnerable position.
“Over 70 per cent of the women we support have experienced some form of domestic or intimate partner violence … over 65 per cent of women who we support are homeless or experiencing homelessness at the time of referral, and the majority of women we support experience income or financial stress,” she said.
“The cost-of-living crisis has compounded the vulnerabilities which the women we support in the community are experiencing right now.
“These women are having to make choices between fuel, accommodation, rent and childcare.”
YWCA Canberra Director of Policy and Advocacy Leah Dwyer said Canberra had “always been a really hard place for single women on pensions or people on a carer’s payment to get by”.
“The majority of people who are receiving income support in the country are women, and these were people who were already struggling before the cost of living changed for everyone,” she said, adding that she has seen more people accessing YWCA’s services who had never needed assistance before, including people who are not entitled to income support but are struggling to pay for basic items such as public transport fares or utility bills.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the ACT Government would look into some of the recommendations outlined by the report, including reviewing concessions and who is eligible for them.
He said the main focus areas were housing and utilities as these were generally the most significant non-discretionary expenses, and that the ACT had partnered with the Commonwealth to expand energy concessions.