Families turn to charity

BATTLING: Long Gully resident Patricia Davies has turned to charity to make ends meet as rising living costs and her deteriorating health mean her disability support no longer covers her basic costs of living. Picture: NONI HYETTCharities in Bendigo are helping more and more families buyfood, pay rent and cover transport and other basic costs of living–despite government cuts to their budget.
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Families turn to charity Salvation Army Major Kaye Viney. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Captain Ray Butler. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Patricia Davies. Picture: NONI HYETT

Bendigo Family and Financial Services’ general manager Jenny Elvey. Picture: NONI HYETT

Picture: NONI HYETT

TweetFacebookBendigo Advertiserpainted a similar picture, as struggling families face increasing pressures from high rentsand a rise in the cost of living.But MsElvey said the story was not one confined to central Victoria.

“This is something that has gone right through Australia, with the new funding arrangementaffecting struggling people andfamilies nationally,” she said.

Facing rising rents and higher utilities,more families in Bendigo are turning to charity to help pay their bills.

‘I can’t keep up with the cost of living’Former truck driver, sheep shearer, horse breaker and single-mother ofseven,Patricia Davies has been a regular at theBendigo Family and Financial Services for the last four years.

“In the beginning it was to volunteer…I’m a carer by nature,” she said.

“But over that period I’ve found it harder and harder to survive on my pension.I started struggling to pay gas, electricity, bills, car rego, petrol, going to the hospital twice a week (and)physio.”

“Then I became a client.”

MsDavies receives $970 in disability support afortnight, due to severe back problems forwhich she requiresa walker.

“It probably dates from the first time I was thrown by a horse,” she said.

“Then there was the truck driving …in those days there was no power steering, we loaded and unloaded by hand.”

Of her fortnightly allowance,$250goes toward payingrent and$210towardthebills of her Long Gully home. She spends$54 on medication,$150 on groceries and$40 oncleaning.

“Once you factor in filling the car, going to Melbourne for treatment … I end up spending more than I get in,” she said.

And the 62-year-old is preparing for her expenses to continue to rise–she says her fortnightly script will go up to$70 next year and soon she will need to hire an electric wheelchair at $100 every two weeks.

“The cost of living is just rising faster than I can keep up,” she said.

Charitybridgingrent gap Bendigo Family and Financial Services’ general manager Jenny Elvey

Victorian households in low-income brackets are spendingmore than half oftheir income on rent alone–andregional president of the StVincent de Paul Society,Tony Spurling, said many simply could not afford it.

“We take for granted the supply of utilities and yet we are finding more and more that a large number of families cannot afford these basic necessities,” he said.

“It is becoming harder and harder for so many people to provide a roof over their head.”

Giving his annual Christmas address to volunteers this week, Mr Spurling said the$68,800 in rent assistance and short term motel accommodationprovided by thecharity this year represented a“considerable increase” on 2014.

Of the $570,000 in charitythe society provided this year,$273,000 was used in food assistance.

But Bendigo charity organisations say more and more families are being pushed to charity as they are unable to pay rent,bills and other basic costs of living.

Last month the country’sfirst rental affordability index found that rental affordability was– in the words of one of its authors–“dividing Australia in a big way”.

That index showedregionalVictorian households in low-income brackets werepaying up to 58 per cent of their income on rent.

Mr SpurlingStVincent de Paul Society had seen about a 10per cent rise in the amount spent on services on services such as utilities, transport and prescription medication.

This year the society spent$36,000 in utility assistanceand$46,000 in transport assistance.

“Our lifestyle is dependent on transport and without it, people have trouble finding a job, attending medical appointments and generally being part of the community,” Mr Spurling said.

And while many charities said they were struggling with recent cuts to their budgets at a time of increased demand, theStVincent de Paul Societyregional president said the social service sector had been put under increased strain by both sides of the political aisle.

“Political parties of both persuasions talk a lot about macro economics but are devoid of consideration as to the social impact of the inadequacy of the social benefits system,” he said.

The hard work of volunteers, he said, was keeping an increasingly strained safety net intact.

“The long and short term effect on the family and the lifelong impressions on the children cannot be measured, but one thing is certain, the society will use its resources to fill the gap where government has failed.”

Push to manage finances MORE WITH LESS: Captain Ray Butler said the Salvation Army was seeing positive outcomes from an increased focus on financial counselling. Pictures: GLENN DANIELS

As their budgets are cut and more people come through their doors seeking assistance, Bendigo charities are increasingly looking to help struggling families better manage their own finances.

Salvation Army Captain Ray Butler said the amount of area his organisationcovered had been extended to includeplaces as far afield asShepparton. And as the amount of charities receiving government funding was reduced, the Salvos were required to increase the volume of their work, over a larger geographic area.

At the same time, the amount theSalvation Army received was 20 per cent less this year than last.

“Essentially, that’smore demand and less money to do it,” Mr Butlersaid.

“So we’ve beenmore concentrated with people around financial case management and counselling.”

Bendigo Family and Financial Servicesgeneral managerJenny Elvey said her organisation had adopted a similar approach–despite seeing a rise in the number of people seeking emergency assistance for food and to meet costs of living.

“We can’t do as much for vulnerable people as we would like to, a lot of what we now do isfinancial education, advocacy on their behalf, putting them on payment plans that areaffordable or referring them to financial counsellors if they need help with complex financialissues,” she said.

“But we don’t have the funds we’ve had in previous years which might have gonetowards things like helping a family pay their electricity bills, or with medical assistance.”

This year the saw theBendigo Family and Financial Servicesemergency relief funding cut by 18 per cent. It lostfinancial counselling funding altogether and is now self -funding theprogram.

MrButler said the increased demand on theSalvation Army’s resources had meant the charity was considering the future of services such a popular drought relief officer, who attended the needs of farming communities throughout northern and central Victoria.

But Mr Butler said the increased focus on financial counselling was having some positive results.

“Thelevels of people seeking Christmas assistance hasn’tincreased so far this year and we’requite sure that’s because of some of the work we’ve beendoing around financial counseling–people being a bit more positive and responsible around planning for Christmas,” he said.

“That might meanpurchasingsomething through layby andmakingplanned installmentsrather than putting things on credit card or out of living expenses.”

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