Hidden poverty on the rise in Australia’s most liveable city

In the space of two years, the number of homeless people on the streets of Melbourne has increased by a phenomenal 74%, according to a 2016 study by the City of Melbourne. Homelessness is on the rise, and this is evident by the increasing number of rough sleepers around the city’s major landmarks. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg according to Monash University senior lecturer, Dr Steven Roberts.

For the last 6 years, Melbourne has been crowned The Economist’s worlds most liveable city.  Extraordinarily diverse and lively, Melbourne boasts everything from a strong sports culture and fantastic night life, to a cutting edge art scene, and of course, internationally regarded food and coffee.

However, an increase in popularity has come with an increase in rental prices, meaning that many Melbournian’s have been left out of pocket or worse, pushed out of their homes. According to new reports, poverty levels are continuing to grow year on year as rental prices soar, leaving many families struggling to make ends meet.

Property prices in Melbourne are at an all time high. Photo: Deniz Karaman

Dr Roberts argues that the nature of poverty is changing and that this is reflected by the growing need for the use of food banks in Melbourne.

“Most of the research done on poverty and homelessness concentrates only on the visible homelessness that we see in terms of rough sleepers on the street. It’s not just homeless people on the streets, lot’s of people will be in work and simultaneously in poverty and hence have to use food banks or rely on insecure housing like room sharing or couch surfing. Increasingly this includes people in work. The evidence is in the rising number of working people using food banks,” he told The Yarra Reporter.

Homelessness in Melbourne increased by 74% from 2014 to 2016. Photo: Deniz Karaman

Sandy Dudakov, vice president of the Abbotsford based food charity FareShare, agreed that hidden poverty is a growing problem and that an increasing number of working people are turning to food banks to feed their families.

“It’s the working people who are now struggling. Rent prices are going up and this is taking its toll on [every day] people, it’s these people who we see increasingly using food banks, and they are generally very embarrassed to do so,” she told The Yarra Reporter.

The FareShare headquarters in Abbotsford. Photo: Deniz Karaman

Fare Share initially started as an eco-friendly endeavour which sought to rescue food that would otherwise be wasted. Today, they provide thousands of meals per week to a number of charities and food banks across Melbourne who then distribute them to struggling families and homeless people.

“There has been a significant increase in the demand for food since the Global Financial Crisis. We continue to increase the number of meals we make, and every week, every single piece of food made is given out. None of it is wasted.”

“If we were to make more food it would be distributed as the demand is there. People are mistaken in thinking that poverty is solely restricted to the homeless people that we see sleeping rough, it goes beyond that,” Sandy said.

According to Victoria’s last rental report from March 2017, median rent levels in Melbourne revealed an annual increase of 3.8%. In addition to this, recent evidence shows that an increasing number of Australian’s – 33.4% in 2013 compared to 27% in 1994- are in long term rental rather than buying their own properties.

This is likely to be in correlation with the increase in property prices, where the average house price is now at a record high of $826,000, reflecting the strongest quarterly growth since 2013.

A report by NATSEM found that 39% of working families with children under the ages of 15 are faced with unaffordable mortgage and rental costs, leaving little money for food, and has resulted in rising levels of poverty. The increase in prices for both renting and buying has made it harder for families to afford housing, contributing to a wider issue of financial hardship that has pushed increased numbers of people to use food banks and into insecure housing.

Poverty in Melbourne goes beyond what the eye can see, and now incorporates a number of working people and even school children.

“The qualitative research I’ve done in Boorondara shows that school kids are couch surfing more often than people perhaps realise,” said Dr Roberts.

Click here for more information on financial support services for those who are experiencing financial hardship.

Written by Deniz Karaman

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