Rising cost of living affecting the Whitsunday community
WHILE new data from the Department of Social Services has placed Bowen, Airlie and the Whitsundays in the top five suburbs in the greater Mackay-Whitsunday region for the most number of people on welfare, some experts believe the biggest problem is rising costs of living which are affecting the whole community.
The Whitsunday Neighbourhood Centre's executive officer Rebecca Woods said the statistics were "not something to be alarmed at” but the broader concern was the wide-ranging effects of surging electricity costs, insurance costs and the elimination of the medical bulk billing service which affected people on welfare as well as double-income families struggling to make ends meet.
"The government needs to step in a state level. It is affecting everybody,” Ms Woods said.
She said the statistics - which showed 487 people on Newstart paying single adults a maximum of $39 a day in Bowen, 390 in the combined suburb of Airlie-Whitsundays and 288 in Proserpine - needed to be looked at in context as often these were also the regions which provided public housing and cheaper rents.
"For example, Jubilee Pocket has a higher percentage of public housing, so you'll attract the people who public housing is aimed at.
"I don't think it means we have a higher percentage overall than metropolitan areas. I think it's that those suburbs tend to be the areas that people find more suitable to their earnings.”
Bowen was found to be second only to the combined Mackay suburb of Andergrove/ Beaconsfield and has more Newstart recipients than Sarina. It also has the third highest number of aged pension recipients in the region, with 1109 people receiving the payment.
There are 643 aged care pensioners in Airlie/Whitsundays and 943 in Proserpine.
The number of welfare recipients in Bowen, Proserpine, and Airlie/Whitsundays has remained stable since December 2015, and Ms Woods said unemployment in the region had fallen from 10.2% to 6%.
However, she said that across the community, the soaring costs of living meant people were living week-to-week without savings to fall back on.
Electricity hikes from July 1 last year had impacted household budgets, she said, as did increased insurance premiums, which had also pushed up rents locally.
"I think everybody is struggling because of the cost of living. We're also talking about health insurance, and we don't have bulk billing in our region any more which is having a massive impact on health benefits.”
People who would ordinarily visit their doctor, she said, were now forced to abandon appointments because they could not afford it.
"We're just starting to see the impact that will have on the community. While there is an automatic refund from Medicare, to a person on a welfare benefit, they don't have the $40 still needed to go to the doctor. They don't have that 'ready' cash.”
She said people on welfare were "absolutely” finding it hard to make ends meet.
"They might get $260 in the hand and they have to turn around and pay 70% of what they've received in rent, and then there's utilities, food, and medical out of that remaining 30%. It's not doable.”
Ms Woods said double-income families were also struggling to find spare cash for medical needs and daily expenses which meant ultimately more people in the community would be forced to seek help from places such as The Neighbourhood Centre.