The 2015 Economic Social Impact Survey was conducted nationally through 262 Salvation Army community support centres; 2,406 responses were received. Respondent demographics were representative of individuals who normally accessed Salvation Army ER services. Results highlighted similar and consistent themes of persistent disadvantage and poverty across our client group. Our research demonstrated respondents experienced: lack of suitable accommodation options, housing stress, barriers to employment, prolonged hardships, financial pressures, multiple levels of deprivation, poor personal wellbeing, and poor social support.
In this economically challenging climate, housing accessibility and affordability remains a critical issue for many low-income earners and income support recipients. Consequently, the survey this year examined the housing status, cost of accommodation and financial resources left over to live on. ESIS 2015 demonstrated some of the complexities and extreme challenges respondents faced to sustain tenure. Respondents paid 59% of their income for accommodation expenses24, which is twice the common benchmark of 30% used to measure housing stress in Australia.25 In monetary terms, respondents indicated that they paid $180 per week26 in accommodation expenses and had $125 per week27 to live on ($17.86 per day).Across all households, recipients of Newstart allowance had about $27 to $50 less per week compared to other sub-groups to live on after accommodation expenses were paid.
Due to financial hardship, 75% of respondents had cut down on basic necessities. Fifty-nine per cent had either delayed or were unable to pay utility bills and 57% had gone without meals. Fifty-six per cent of respondents indicated they felt worse off regarding their financial situation and almost a third felt negative about their prospects in the coming 12 months. Without effective intervention, life circumstances may remain unchanged for this cohort and they reported little optimism about escaping poverty and disadvantage in the foreseeable future.
Not surprisingly, 87% of adults reported severe deprivations as they went without more than five essential items in life, such as dental and medical treatment (68%) and a substantial meal at least once a day (25%). The majority of respondents did not have $500 in savings in case of emergency (91%), were not able to afford a week’s holiday away each year (87%), and were not able to afford home contents (87%) or car insurance (73%). For many disadvantaged Australians, The Salvation Army provides support and a safety net in their time of need.
A total of 2,864 children were represented in the survey, as children were present in 53% of households. It is of concern that children continue to experience the effects of poverty and impacts from their parent’s limited financial resources. Results indicated that 60% of children presented with severe deprivations, and went without five or more essential items in life. In terms of their school needs, 54% of respondents were not able to afford for their children to participate in out-of-school activities and 50% were not able to afford up to date school books. Most were not able to afford out-of-school activities (65%).Narratives from respondents demonstrated a sense of guilt and stress given they could not provide these items for their children.
It is of concern that these children will remain trapped in cycles of entrenched poverty, deprived of basic opportunities of education, social inclusion and community participation, if the main causes of poverty and disadvantage are not addressed.
On average, respondent’s experienced significantly lower scores on Personal Wellbeing Index28 (45.93) compared to the National average (75.25), a difference of 29.32. Homeless respondents recorded 28.17, the lowest PWI score. Single-headed households and recipients of Newstart allowance were also among those with significantly lower PWI subgroups. Overall, 42% of respondents reported poor social supports. In particular, asylum seeker/refugee, Disability Support Pension recipients, and people who were homeless or staying in temporary accommodation were the subgroups who were found to have a significantly higher proportion of poor social supports.
Almost three-quarters of respondents had been seeking employment for up to two years. This group experienced more extreme housing stress (75%), a higher level of deprivation (49% could not afford 11 or more essential items), and consequently lower satisfaction in life (PWI index of 43.03). Respondents reported many barriers to seeking and sustaining long term employment. Fifty-nine per cent reported that physical/mental health issues were the main barriers preventing them looking for work. Parenting and/or caring responsibilities (50%) were barriers for respondents who intended to look for work in the future and 32% of those who were looking for work found it difficult to re-enter the workforce.
The Salvation Army acknowledges that education and employment are a means to exit poverty and have a better life. However, some respondents will require additional support to overcome the challenges they face.