Inflation: 800,000 Australians left in poverty as cost of living soars

Buying expired food, living in a warehouse, eating only one meal a day and a single mum moving 16 times in the space of 14 months are some of the harrowing experiences of Australians trying to survive as the cost of living soars.

One woman said she can no longer afford to shop at Aldi turning to buying from a food pantry.

“I buy food that is close to expiry date or even expired already so I was able to keep affording food and the basic needs,” she said.

Another single mum shared her story about lack of stable housing.

“The kids and I, we lived in 16 different addresses in 14 months,” she said. “A lot of house-sitting. Staying with friends. All that sort of thing.”

Facing homelessness, another woman has been forced into dire conditions.

“I didn’t look at the property properly, it’s overpriced, it’s not legal, it’s not council approved … the owners and the agents refusing to do repairs,” she explained.

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These experiences are documented in a new report from the Poverty and Inequality Partnership led by Acoss and the University of NSW, which found that the coronavirus supplement that paid an extra $275 a week introduced in 2020 for welfare recipients and gave them breathing space to afford basics such as food and medication.

However its subsequent removal has plunged Australians back into poverty, with around 800,000 people in Australia living on the jobseeker payment that has been set well below the poverty line.

Interviews with recipients revealed the payment provided a reprieve from ongoing financial stresses and allowed them to plan for their future for the first time.

Yet when it was abolished in April 2021, participants were forced to return to acute financial stress and experienced increased feelings of exclusion.

The report authors noted that the extra $275 a week was “far from [a] bonus payment” but “allowed participants to experience something closer to a life without ongoing, debilitating worries about money”.

They noted that research participants used the supplement for essentials such as food, medical, personal or household items, to pay off debt and to deal with emergencies.

It also found that the Covid-19 pandemic was particularly hard for people who had precarious housing situations and health complications.

Participants said that isolation, anxiety and insufficient income were impacting both physical and mental health.

Acoss CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said the report showed how the pandemic hit people on low incomes the hardest.

“These compelling human experiences show how tough the experience of poverty can be. Australia is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, yet people can’t afford to keep a roof over their head, are eating only one meal a day and buying expired food,” she said.

“The report clearly shows how the coronavirus supplement provided people with enough to live on for the first time. We must urgently increase income support payments so that they cover the cost of the basics.”

One participant revealed they had lost weight due to the soaring cost of living and the extra money being abolished. “I’m used to it now, but my stomach has definitely shrunk. I’m kind of living on one meal a day,” they said.

Another said despite obtaining work in a charity call centre they were still homeless.

Meanwhile, an Australian Council of Trade Unions released this week found one in four people were skipping meals due to cost of living increases, while more than half have cut back on essential items.

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