We in Australia are fortunate to live in a prosperous country. Yet despite our strengths and values, millions of people accessing our social services continue to struggle to live a decent life. Poverty and disadvantage are a stubborn reality for some people. Deep seated systemic issues and other barriers conspire against many people who live well below the poverty line.
One of the persistent causes of poverty in Australia in recent years is the steep rise in electricity prices.
In this election year, a priority for UnitingCare Australia, as a national advocacy voice for the church, is to ensure people on low and modest incomes and people who experience additional disadvantage are able to pay for the energy they need to live a decent life.
Energy prices have almost doubled in the last five years. This hike, which is well beyond the Consumer Price Index, is felt most acutely by lower income and disadvantaged households and is driving increased demand for emergency relief and financial counselling services.
Energy stress sets in once people spend 4 per cent or more of their income on energy costs. But the latest household expenditure survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows people in the bottom half of income levels in Australia are spending more than 10 per cent of their income on essential energy.
There’s been a steep rise in disconnection rates in some parts of Australia. Affordable electricity is an essential service. There is no substitute. It’s central to good health and access to the technologies that enable workforce and social participation.
As prices continue to increase, UnitingCare Australia research shows that a third of households will cut back on fresh food and study or further training and a quarter of households will cut back on going to the doctor and buying medicine.
We care about this issue and we want you to be a part of our advocacy for positive change.
By bringing together our voices and our experiences we believe that together, we can bring about real change locally and nationally.
So we’ve launched UnitingForChange – our online community uniting for fairness, hope and opportunity. Here you can find plain English information on public debate on some of the things that matter. And you can share your knowledge and experiences on the issues that are important to you.
I encourage you to get active online and in your community.
Visit UnitingForChange to see how you can get involved in making sure everyone in Australia gets access to the electricity they need to live a decent life. www.unitingforchange.org.au
Lin Hatfield Dodds, national director, UnitingCare Australia