Affording the basics

Goal: Everyone can pay for their basic needs

People can only live a good life if they are free from constant worry about the cost of living. In a prosperous state with great leadership, everyone should be able to afford life’s essentials.

Affording the basics means families can pay their energy bills, and not worry about having their power cut off. It means being able to juggle living costs – including food, rent, water and education costs – knowing that there is help to avoid or manage a financial crisis.

An affordable cost of living means people can pay their travel costs, including for work, learning, connecting and receiving care and support. It means being able to participate in learning and sharing online, with affordable access to technology and the internet.

 

 Cutting power bills

A good life means being able to heat and cool your home, and having energy for cooking and washing. In 10 years, electricity prices have risen 52 per cent faster than inflation. More Victorians are experiencing the shock of receiving an energy bill they can’t pay. Increasing energy costs have been driving financial problems for many families, and leading to more Victorians having their power cut off.

 

Regulate for fair energy prices

Victoria can adopt stronger regulation to control energy prices. Better regulation can help achieve fairer, lower pricing by making energy prices transparent, simple and comparable; making energy contracts fair; and ensuring people experiencing disadvantage can get a fair, low-cost offer. More transparency and better protections can prevent people from being gouged.

Boost enforcement of energy rules

Victoria can ensure energy companies are following the rules to protect customers who are having trouble paying energy bills, or stop them from being disconnected. Stronger enforcement can be achieved by funding community organisations to inform people about the new payment difficulty framework, and resourcing the regulator properly.

Commit to clean energy

Victoria needs a solid, sensible plan to gradually remove carbon-intensive energy generators over time and replace them with clean, affordable alternatives. This will also help lower energy prices. Recent price increases are mainly caused by runaway electricity generation charges, resulting from fluctuating energy supply.

But new, renewable energy investment won’t occur without a clear, enduring commitment to a stable investment environment.

Help upgrade homes to slash energy use

Victoria can invest in upgrading homes to be more energy efficient and slash energy costs. For Victorians on low incomes in poor-quality public or private rental homes, paying for improvements is an uphill battle. The provision of basic energy saving measures like insulation, affordable hot water and heating systems and window coverings is needed. Using a mix of finance, and bolstered by minimum rental standards and modification rights, we can tackle this fundamental cause of unaffordable energy supply with new home energy-efficiency measures.

Defend the value of bill-shock relief

Victoria provides families with a payment if they struggle with energy costs, recently increased to $650.25 This protection can be defended from eroding in value by properly indexing it to reflect changing energy costs.

Break the barriers to asylum seeker energy concessions

Energy and water can be made more affordable for asylum seekers by extending energy and water concessions to them, consistent with public transport concessions, and TAFE and health access. Bewilderingly, this most impoverished and marginalised group is currently excluded. Most asylum seekers become Victorian residents, and depriving them of concessions compromises their future contribution to Victoria.

 

Mark's story

Every day, millions of Australians are making heartbreaking decisions and sacrifices in order to pay their power bill. #powerstruggles http://bit.ly/2viABHe

Posted by Victorian Council of Social Service – VCOSS on Tuesday, 8 August 2017


 

 Managing money

Living in poverty or facing financial crisis is not a pathway to a good life. A thoughtful and considered collaboration to respond to financial distress can help Victorians avoid financial pitfalls, without having to make desperate trade-offs between bills and food, or resorting to predatory loans. With costs outpacing incomes, and household debt at historic highs, it is an opportune time to invest in Victorians’ financial capabilities, supporting them to be great financial managers.

 

Plan for action on financial inclusion

Victoria can mobilise its resources to build a simple, decently funded and thorough system to respond to financial stress and hardship. The first step is to develop a Victorian Financial Inclusion Action
Plan to guide investment and provide a collaboration platform for community, government and business.

Help people deal with financial emergencies

Victoria can join the majority of Australian states and territories in directly funding financial crisis assistance services to help people pay for food, clothing and essentials, and help establish financial stability. These ‘emergency relief’ services build on their immediate assistance by supporting people to develop longer-term financial independence.

Help Victorians be money-wise

Financial counsellors help people better deal with housing stress, energy hardship, debt problems, the financial effects of poor health or job loss, and help prevent financial stress snowballing into much larger and costlier problems.

Victoria can strengthen its financial counselling network to save more people from mortgage default, bankruptcy or long-term hardship. It is estimated another 90 financial counsellors are needed to fully support Victoria’s financially distressed families.

Displace predatory lenders

No Interest Loan Schemes (NILS) allow people to afford essentials, by financing household appliances, education and medical expenses at an affordable rate, and diverting people away from predatory lenders like payday lenders and pawnbrokers. Delivering more sites like Morwell’s recently opened ‘Good Money’ store will mean more Victorians can benefit.

Ensure people are properly insured

Ensuring that Victorians have adequate home and contents insurance protects them against financial disaster in a crisis. Community organisations can be supported to partner with insurers to develop better products, and can use financial literacy channels to raise awareness of the value of insurance.


 

 Getting around

Transport is freedom. For a good life, people need to be able to reach the places where they work, learn, get healthcare and community services, connect with family and friends, and participate in community life. To maximise people’s mobility, Victoria needs great public transport at affordable prices, and for those with greater needs there can be a well-resourced mobility program providing individualised transport.

 

Boost rural and regional transport options

Boosting public transport is one of the most important investments that can be made in regional Victoria, where people travel further and at greater expense. In many parts of regional Victoria the population is ageing, and public transport is a lifeline that allows people to shop, attend appointments and connect with the community. For young people it also increases the prospects of getting a job, getting a qualification, and being able to access health and community services.

Beef up buses in the outer suburbs

Victoria can reach more people with its public transport network by boosting the bus system, especially in Melbourne’s outer suburbs where trains and trams don’t reach the communities that often experience the most disadvantage. Victoria needs to restructure its bus network to run more frequent and direct services, concentrating on places disconnected from the rail network.

Unscramble public transport fares and concessions

Victoria can devise a simple, easily understood public transport fare structure, with affordable concessions for low-income earners. This can overcome the cumbersome concessions structure we’ve inherited, which involves 17 types of concessions and six types of free travel passes. An innovative overhaul can create simple, fair and proportionate fares to meet the needs of people on low incomes, those with disability and older people.

Revamp public transport to work for everybody

Victoria can have a 21st-century public transport system. We can revamp our public transport network to truly work for all Victorians, including older people and those with disability. We need a strong and enduring pipeline of public transport upgrade investments, repairing our legacy infrastructure to meet modern access standards, aiming to be fully accessible by 2022.

Broaden transport subsidies

Victoria can make sure that everyone, regardless of their ability, can get where they need to be affordably by expanding its transport subsidy program to more transport options. Currently, the mobility program is restricted to taxis, and can’t be used for cheaper options like Uber or community transport.

Slash costs by championing community transport

Victoria can catch up with and surpass other states by investing in the fully-fledged development of a community transport industry. In other states, community transport moves tens of thousands of people each week, and is cheaper than other transport services. Victoria can eliminate the barriers to community transport growth and deliver affordable, quality transport for people with mobility difficulties.


 

 Going digital

Digital access is a prerequisite for 21st-century living. Today’s world is digital, with everything from getting a job to finding a home, managing money, doing your homework or looking for help performed online.

In the new era of personalised services, choice and control is increasingly digital, with internet portals for your bank account, tax, Centrelink, NDIS, MyAgedCare or MySchool. Digital participation improves school performance and educational outcomes, employment opportunities, and social inclusion.

 

Expand public access Wi-Fi and internet

Victoria can reach more people who depend on free internet access by expanding VicFreeWiFi to more locations, especially in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, and more regional cities and rural towns. People on low incomes are more likely not to have internet plans, or to use occasional pre-paid services but rely largely on free Wi-Fi or community access for connection.

Coverage beyond the centres of Melbourne, Ballarat and Bendigo could provide digital access for people who really need it, like age and disability pensioners, and young people from low-income families who would benefit from online access for schoolwork and connecting to their peers. This could be supplemented by more community access centres, expanding from local library models into community facilities like neighbourhood houses and community centres.

Become a connected community with low-cost internet plans

Victoria can become Australia’s most digitally-connected state by expanding internet access to the remaining low-income households who can’t afford it. Victoria can design a specialised low-cost basic internet plan, and connect disadvantaged families and individuals with a concessional discount. This would help overcome Victoria’s large ‘capital-country’ digital gap, and reach the significant number of people who are currently excluded.

Deliver the skills for digital inclusion

Victoria can invest in digital literacy services to further bridge the digital divide. Digital inclusion is more than devices and connectivity: it requires digital literacy skills. People on low incomes and people with disability are likely to be less digitally literate. Investing in community delivered digital literacy programs helps include these people in the online.

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