THE rising cost of living is hitting Ballarat households hard, as new figures show weekly average income increasing at a slower rate than other metropolitan and regional centres.
Newly released data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows Ballarat’s average weekly income per household was $988 last year, representing a 17.7 per cent increase on 2006 figures.
Weekly household income in Melbourne increased by 23.5 per cent to $1333 in the same period, suggesting a widening gap in income between residents of the two cities.
Geelong and Bendigo both had greater weekly incomes and larger increases in the past five years.
Bendigo increased by 18.9 per cent to $991 while Geelong rose by 18.3 per cent to $1049.
As rental stress hits hard in the community, the figures also show nearly a third of Ballarat households live on less than $600 per week while only 5.6 per cent earn more than $3000 weekly.
Mortgage repayments in the city rose by more than $250 to $1307, with rental payments averaging $200 per week.
Centacare Ballarat executive director David Beaver said the increasing gap in incomes between the city and the bush are starker in Ballarat than other parts of the state.
He said agencies like Centacare are continuing to see the impact of slower growth on families and communities and called on the state government to do more to ensure that there is adequate economic and social development in Ballarat and other regions suffering from significantly lower than average growth.
“The recent cutbacks in funding of essential services in Ballarat such as TAFE funding cuts are exacerbating the problem. Under the circumstances, places like Ballarat, in the face of this evidence of growing gaps in incomes, should be quarantined from such funding cutbacks.”
Mr Beaver said more money should be poured into the region to reverse the problem, and necessary services and programmes should be provided to bring them back in line with rates of growth in incomes, to at least the equivalent levels experienced in Melbourne.
Ballarat West MP Sharon Knight said the figures showed the Victorian government must provide better assistance to families doing it tough.
She said the figures were a reminder that $20 million in cuts to TAFE courses at the University of Ballarat were short sighted.
“One of the best ways, I believe, to increase the opportunities for households to earn more, is to provide a strong training sector,” she said.
“A sector that can empower local people to increase their skills, and to provide further opportunities for employment. The job losses that have occurred in
regional Victoria, and particularly in Ballarat, will only serve to widen the gap between income levels across the board.”
Ms Knight said increasing costs for public transport and car registration in Victoria were a failure in the government’s promise to restrain the rising cost of living.