MORE than 8500 people in the Ballarat region are dependent on government welfare payments, with 3600 living on just $35 per day, new figures show.
With 2600 people receiving single parent support payments and 790 young people collecting the Youth Allowance, local welfare agencies say they are helping increasing numbers of Ballarat residents make ends meet. With unemployment in Victoria at 5.8 per cent, the worst on the Australian mainland, and hundreds of jobs shed in Ballarat over the last year from sectors such as manufacturing, the Australian Council of Social Service is concerned more and more people are reaching a point of financial desperation.
Last month the organisation launched a campaign to show that in many cases after accounting for rent and utilities, many job seekers were left to live on as little as $17 per day for all food and expenses.
ACOSS maintains Newstart Allowance base level payments of $245 had dropped to only 36 per cent of the median income and had slipped well below the international poverty line .
ACOSS chief executive officer Dr Cassandra Goldie said current welfare levels had not been increased since 1994, were unacceptably low and a $50 increase was needed.
“You only have to ask welfare agencies operating throughout the state, including Ballarat, to know the number of people seeking emergency assistance has ballooned in recent years — mainly because they have fallen behind in their ever-increasing rent and energy bills, and general cost of living pressures,” Dr Goldie said.
“(Current) allowances can’t cover the rising cost of rents and this is contributing to a rise in family homelessness.”
She said no increases were expected in next month’s federal budget, despite calls from trade unions, business groups and the Henry tax review.
Ballarat soup bus co-ordinator Craig Schepis said demand for regular food assistance had increased dramatically in recent years.
“We are coming up to our third anniversary in July. In our first year we assisted around 5,000 people, last year it was 10,000 and already our numbers suggest we are way over that figure this year,” he said.