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The essentials of life

What I don't have

The Essentials of Life scale provides an indication of the level of deprivation experienced by individuals. The scale is a list of 26 items that Australians currently regard as essential to everyday life. The scale provides a measure of deprivation, indicating how many people do not have and cannot afford each of the 26 items. The following series of charts provide the percentage responses of items, activities and opportunities that respondents do without and the impact on their children.

Results across the 26 items indicate that people are substantially impacted by their level of income, and are having to make signifi cant adjustments to standards of living, medical treatment and social and recreational activities. In effect, respondents are struggling across a range of areas, from paying bills, to health care and providing for dependent children.

The respondent cohort is predominantly unemployed (79%) with over a third (34%) in receipt of the Newstart Allowance, which has the lowest payment rate. This includes single parents whose youngest child is over eight years of age. Thirty per cent of respondents were on the Disability Support Pension and 20 per cent were in receipt of the single rate Parenting Payment. A direct consequence of income support payments is limited economic resources, and as such it is not surprising that the impact of such restrictions is wide.

Limited economic resources place restrictions on an individual’s capacity to fund risk mitigation measures, such as having savings, home contents and vehicle insurance. Over 90 per cent (92%) of respondents did not have savings up to $500, 82 per cent did not have home contents insurance and nearly two thirds (65%) did not have vehicle insurance. This represents a limited capacity to respond to situations that go wrong, e.g. a car accident, a washing machine or fridge stops working, or storm damage to the interior of a home (Chart 15 a and 15b).



“Once I get paid, I have to pay all of my bills and there is nothing left!” - Respondent comment

“We lost everything we owned in a house fire and no way to replace anything.” - Respondent comment

Why I don't have these items

Limited economic resources also impact an individual’s capacity to access services due to affordability. For example, 60 per cent of respondents could not afford dental treatment when required, and while the majority could afford medical treatment (77%), over a third (35%) could not afford the required medications prescribed by their doctor.

The impact of limited finances on social interactions and engagement in key social occasions (e.g. birthdays and Christmas) has been noted in section 5.3 above but is further emphasised here. Thirty six per cent of respondents do not have regular social contact with other people and 86 per cent were unable to afford a holiday away from home each year. Even the simple gesture of presents for friends and family was outside the capacity of over half of respondents (53%).

Living standards were also significantly compromised by limited resources. Twenty eight per cent of respondents reported not having a decent home, 33 per cent did not have sound roof and gutters and 32 per cent did not have secure locks on doors and windows. Over a quarter (27%) could not afford heating/cooling in at least one room in their home and one quarter could not afford decent furniture. Over a quarter of respondents (28%) could not afford one decent meal each day.

Almost 40 per cent (39%) of respondents do not have computer skills with 83 per cent indicating they could not afford to acquire such skills. In this information technology era this essential is a significant disadvantage to study and work.


“I want to work, but I am very unwell frequently. I need to try and stabilise my health, but I often cannot access the medical services I need due to cost; the waiting time to see specialists is very lengthy and my nutrition is very poor.” - Respondent comment

“Living in a house with leaking roof because its falling to pieces, termite damage. But the rent is cheap.” - Respondent comment

“Utilities are a luxury that I struggle to afford (gas etc.) my rent goes up every time I’ve had a small rise in my pension. They take it all or more than I’ve had in my rise in pension. Twice a year my rent goes up. Therefore it does not cover the rising cost of living.” - Respondent comment