Surge in households seeking support as Christmas looms

Food and housing are the leading cost of living concerns for vulnerable Australians heading into Christmas, new reports show.

Surging interest rates, skyrocketing rents and increasing grocery bills are forcing more and more households to reach out for help, according to analysis by peak welfare groups in Western Australia and Tasmania.

Tasmanian Council of Social Service chief executive Adrienne Picone said an increasing number of Tasmanians were seeking food relief and pressure was mounting on community service organisations.

"As we head into what is meant to be a joyful time of year, research shows in the last 12 months 84,000 Tasmanian households — more than the population of Launceston — have struggled to have enough to eat," she said on Tuesday.

"That's an increase of 18,000 on last year."

Ms Picone said vulnerable Tasmanians were skipping meals, buying poor quality, heavily processed food because it was cheap and seeking emergency food relief.

"In a country where we produce enough food to feed our population three times over, we should not be facing a Christmas where families are skipping meals and going without health care or power in order to put food on the table," she said.

A volunteer at work at a Food Bank store in Melbourne
Tasmania's peak welfare group says the government should boost funding for food relief providers.

The Tasmanian council called on the state government to boost funding for emergency food relief providers and the school food program, increase community awareness of the problem and work more closely with community groups.

WA Council of Social Service chief executive Louise Giolitto said the housing crisis and the increasing cost of living continued to be a major challenge for vulnerable people in that state .

"Wages continue to lag and income support is now substantially below basic living costs," she said.

Real wages have dropped over the past 12 months, with single and two-parent families, unemployed singles and age-pensioners renting homes falling below the point where their income is sufficient to cover their basic living costs.

Local community services report that inadequate access to safe and secure housing has become the greatest threat to West Australians.

Large numbers of community services clients are falling significantly behind on their rents due to unsustainable increases by landlords.

Unable to cover increasing rental costs, an increasing number of households are reaching out for support, with demand for emergency relief funds to cover arrears rapidly growing.

"Government intervention to provide support and ensure fair outcomes for all Australians is clearly needed," Ms Giolitto said.

“Raising the rate of JobSeeker, and other federal income support payments like rent assistance, is essential for ensuring that those who are unemployed are able to cover the costs of meeting a standard of living in line with community expectations.

The WA report made 13 recommendations, including stabilising rent prices, increased emergency relief and financial counselling funding.

WA COSS also urged the state and federal government to increase concessions and subsidies for public transport and essential services.

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