Today I visited a housing support service in the electorate to talk to a number of welfare agencies and people who have experienced housing stress. I wanted to find out how people on Newstart can find affordable rent in my electorate of Melbourne because with a ten year plus waiting list for public housing, and inner city rentals being at all-time highs, the options are limited.
The answer is: it's tough. Many people simply don't find long-term accommodation and that just makes things worse. People are moving in and out of crisis accommodation, unable to get a foothold in the market. The message was clear: we urgently need more public housing stock. Housing should be a human right, yet a safe, secure and stable roof over your head is increasingly out of reach of many people, especially those on Newstart or Youth Allowance.
ACOSS has estimated that about 62% of people on Newstart experience housing stress. Housing stress is defined as paying more than 30% of income on rent. The ABS data indicates that in 2011, 10.4% of Australians live in housing stress.
30% of$ 246.30 is $73.89. There is no Rent Assistance unless rent is above $107 (43% of Newstart). Rent Assistance has various rates depending on the rent paid and whether you have children. If you are in a shared house, you get less rent assistance. You can learn more about it here: http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/enablers/centrelink/rent-assist...
$240 is the cheapest rent in Melbourne for a single bedroom apartment. If someone going onto Newstart can't find better rent than $240 (less Rental Assistance of $60), they are living in severe housing stress: $180 is 74% of the Newstart allowance.
The average weekly rent in Australia jumped from $190 in 2006 to $285 in 2011 (ABS). NSA, was, on average, $228 a week in 2006-07. So while average rents have gone up $95, Newstart has only increased $18: that is, while average rent has increased by 50%, Newstart has increased by 8%.
High rent costs means that the low rate of Newstart puts people and families in housing stress and at risk of homelessness.
Anyone who is not in public housing on Newstart is likely to be living in housing stress. In my electorate of Melbourne, there have been some new community housing ventures, but in 6 years, there has only been a net of one new public housing apartment.
Newstart payments are central to combating poverty in Australia. We are a caring nation and politicians should help people down on their luck, not punish them.
Here's what some people on Newstart have told me about housing stress:
"It's accommodation, transport and utilities that kill you: particularly electricity. I've been on the dole three years, work part time now and again, we have a mortgage (300 a week) I can't walk away from. Can't afford power, can't afford to get solar to cut the power bill, can't afford new appliances to cut the consumption. At this end of the financial bell curve, you can't win." [Geoff]
"The difficulty with Centerlink was that I needed a postal address to receive my payment. If I didn't have one, they deemed that I didn't need my payment. So I had an elaborate system of receiving mail. I used old addresses, even abandoned address that I would check the mail at regularly. I had brought this up many, many times with Centrelink. Early on I was actually told that if I was homeless I had to sign at Odyssey House to keep getting payments! There were many, many times Centrelink,, my PPP or my JNP would immediately assume I had a drug problem when I told them I was homeless." [Carlos]
"I have lived on the dole in the past (or less as I worked part-time and didn't want to deal with Centrelink top-ups) and ... I can't imagine how I did it. I don't think I could do it now and hope like hell I never have to. Living in Perth (now) rent is even more expensive. However, there is the issue of house sharing. If you did that you MAY be able to reduce rent costs." [Raelene]
"You can make your rent cheaper if you share with someone else. The extra rent for the second bedroom is more than offset by being able to split the rent 50/50. People living on the dole don't always have the luxury of choosing to live alone." [Simon]
Costs on Day Two:
$27.24 - $5.26 (food) - $3.50 (public transport) = $18.48