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A winter of discontent

By Catherine Garrett - posted Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The dictionary definition of hardship is a condition that is difficult to endure; suffering, deprivation, lack of comfort or constant toil or danger.

This descriptive "condition" is not hard to transfer from page to person.

A visit to any welfare emergency centre across Melbourne attests to it. In St Albans, in the city's northwest, a quiet queue of people waits for a chance to receive food donations. They are given a range of items including cereal, bread and other household essentials. Their visit here makes the difference between going hungry and feeding themselves and their children.


Hardship throbs all around this tiny tin shed staffed by volunteers.

"We go two days and then we eat. And then it's only one meal a day. We don't have breakfast, lunch and tea. It's just how it is. You accept it because at least we have somewhere to stay." Susan is tiny as a sparrow and a survivor.

She holds her ration paper and tells me that she will only come to get food when really stuck. She is still caring for her sick adult son and must be nearly 70 herself. "We both get the pension and pay about one thousand dollars a month on rent, which I know is cheap. But with other bills we don't have much left for food." Susan is not complaining - it's how her life is.

Anglicare Victoria's aptly named Hardship Survey released this month is a snapshot of people like Susan who access the most basic of help at the Agency's emergency relief centres.This can be food, blankets, clothes and help with paying bills.

The study includes a deprivation approach to measuring poverty. It looks at the extent to which people on low incomes miss out on what is widely regarded as the essentials to enjoying a reasonable quality of life. Unsurprisingly, most of the emergency relief clients interviewed for the Hardship Survey fit this bill.

Eight-five per cent did not have $500 savings in case of an emergency. Almost 70 per cent could not afford home contents insurance. Nearly 40 per cent had no money to pay for medicine and almost 20 per cent could not afford one good meal a day.


Keeping warm is a huge strain for most people accessing emergency relief. A significant number did not have adequate winter clothing, bedding - or heating in at least one room of their home. 54 per cent surveyed were seriously behind in paying electricity bills and 14 per cent had been disconnected. Many respondents were worried about rising energy costs and the Carbon Tax.

For those trying to survive on Newstart, almost one third said they could not afford the basics to help them get a job such as a telephone or computer.

The report also shows single parents doing it particularly tough. Many are sacrificing their own health to keep their children warm and well fed.

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About the Author

Catherine Garrett is media officer for Anglicare Victoria and a freelance journalist.

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