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Rising cost of living drags Canberrans below poverty line in what many call Australia’s most affluent city

Nearly one in 10 Canberrans live below the poverty line, according to the latest report from the ACT Council of Social Service, which casts doubt on the perception of a “prosperous” and “wealthy” national capital.

One example is Caroline, who moved back to Canberra last year to be closer to her daughter.

Since moving to the ACT, Caroline has struggled to find a job and constantly has a roof over her head.

“Even though I have a degree and have been working in administration and business for a long time, it is still very difficult for me,” she said.

She has since found an emergency shelter, which required her to live in her car for months.

When Caroline moved back to Canberra to be closer to her daughter, she struggled to get a job or find housing. (ABC News: Donal Sheil)

“I found it quite difficult because Canberra is very cold, and I got a lung infection right before I found this house,” she said.

“There is so little housing available… a one-bedroom house costs about $350 a week.

“That’s almost the entire weekly allowance of the Job Seeker.”

Social service providers’ see a whole new clientele.’

St John’s Care operations manager Robbie Speldwinde says the charity sees people who have never needed the service. (ABC News: Donal Sheil)

Caroline is one of many Canberrans who have turned to St John’s Care – a charity that provides free supplies to those struggling to make ends meet – for help.

Operations manager Robbie Speldewinde said he had seen demand soar.

“A few factors contribute to that,” he said.

“The increased food costs are a big one… but so are the higher gas costs. Many people have lost their pockets if you fill up your car right now.”

Mr. Speldwinde said the charity also saw “a whole new clientele”.

“People with car loans and mortgages who have never used the service before are coming here for basic support,” he said.

“It’s hard to see.”

Four key factors affect most household budgets: gasoline, food, housing, and electricity.

In Canberra, this happened in just one year with prices for these common goods and services:

‘Extreme financial problems

Financial advisor Deb Shroot works for Care, which provides free financial advice.

She said many of the consultants were constantly booked up lately.

“People have pretty extreme financial problems,” she said.

“Many people call because they can’t afford necessities like gas, food, and insurance.”

Ms. Shroot said many of her conversations lately have been heartbreaking.

“A lot of people call, and they don’t even have next week’s rent — they don’t have enough food for their families this week,” she said.

Ms. Shroot said more Canberrans are buying services now and paying later to save money in the short term, but she said it would only increase their debt in the longer term.

“Electricity companies have very good interest-free hardship programs, and we recommend that people call their suppliers in the first place and talk to them,” she said.

She also recommended that people call toll-free services like Care for advice.

How does Canberra compare to the rest of the country?

The cost of living had declined for most Australians for over a decade.

But those good times are over, and it’s been a rough year nationwide.

However, if it feels like Canberra is more expensive in some ways than elsewhere, that’s because it is.

While the cost of electricity, childcare, and rent rose for many Australians, the price increases in Canberra far outstripped the national average.

And while international travel costs fell elsewhere in Australia, they rose 2.4 percent in Canberra.

Some households have been hit harder than others.

Older and veteran retirees suffer the most – the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests that the goods and services retirees typically buy have risen in price faster than other households.

‘Ridiculous’ housing market

Peta Stamell believes affordable housing is a fundamental human right and wants reforms that help lower prices. (ABC News: Greg Nelson)

The price of real estate – buying or renting – has also skyrocketed in Canberra amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Peta Stamell managed to buy her own home but says she lived in shared homes for about 15 years to afford it.

“I wanted to have a child, and I also have a disability, which requires me to make minor adjustments to my house, and renting is not easy,” she said.

“Now that I’m in my thirties, I thought it would be nice not to climb on things to get into my house.”

But while Ms. Stamell says she’s thankful she got into the housing market before prices rose any further, she still had to compromise.

She and her sister pooled their money to buy a two-bedroom house, where they live with Mrs. Stamell’s five-month-old son.

She knows she will eventually have to upgrade.

Peta Stamell and her five-month-old son at their home in northern Canberra. (ABC News: Greg Nelson)

“Although the house we bought has gone up in value, it doesn’t mean anything unless you have extra property on hand, and I don’t,” she said.

“So I’m going to upgrade to a significantly more expensive property, and I’m not looking forward to doing that.”

Ms. Stamell believes affordable housing is a fundamental human right and wants reforms that help lower prices.

“The problem with the Australian housing market is that its success is determined by how much equity it brings to investors, not how well it accommodates people, which is ridiculous,” she said.

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Dorothy R. Barrett

I’m a full-time blogger by passion. This is my first blog, and I'm excited to share everything that I love about technology, business, and lifestyle with you. I’m a writer by trade, and I can be found writing about tech, business, and lifestyle on my personal blog.

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