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We can protect people seeking asylum from energy hardship

One of Victoria’s most impoverished and marginalised groups is currently denied utility concessions.

Skyrocketing energy prices are a wrecking ball on many household budgets. Even people with good jobs and steady incomes struggle to make ends meet. Things are harder still for those on modest incomes, in substandard housing or who have health challenges that require heavy utility use.

Energy and water are essential services, in both law and practice.

People simply cannot forgo them and still live a healthy, enjoyable or sustainable life.

The good news is there’s a range of concessions available for Victorians struggling with energy and water costs, including the recently expanded Utility Relief Grant.

But one group in our community is still denied this crucial relief: people seeking asylum.

These are people who have fled war, famine or persecution in foreign lands to build a good life in Victoria. Many already face significant language barriers and discrimination, or are recovering from trauma. They are almost certainly living a life of poverty and hardship.

Which makes it bewildering that Victorian policymakers bar this particular group from accessing energy and water concessions.

Is a family seeking asylum any less in need of hot meals or warm baths?

Does an child seeking asylum not need light to complete her homework?

It’s true Victoria does already offer a range of assistance measures to people seeking asylum. From public transport subsidies to TAFE discounts and health concessions, Victoria is doing more than most. We applaud the Victorian Government for these measures. In many ways, Victoria is leading the nation by showing what a welcoming state looks like.

But energy and water are the missing link.

Alongside housing, utilities are among the fastest growing and most devastating costs burdens for Victorian families.

This is not an argument based purely on compassion—although helping follow humans in need is the compassionate and right thing to do.

Most people seeking asylum become residents over time. They will eventually work jobs, put their kids in the school and join sporting clubs. Needlessly depriving them of help when they need it most compromises their smooth settlement, their job prospects and their future economic contribution to Victoria.

Victoria could ease the financial challenges facing people seeking asylum by doing all it can to support them; including a bit of extra help with their water and power bills.