Failure on housing reveals where the real priorities stand – The Mercury opinion piece

Meg Webb 2018, Housing, News and Media

Read the original article on The Mercury

This week’s Federal Budget let many poor and homeless Tasmanians down, says Meg Webb

BUDGETS are about choices and priorities. They are an indication of what, and who, is important to us.

By any measure, housing affordability is a national priority issue, and here in Tasmania we have seen the growing urgency in managing the impact of our lack of affordable housing.

As our representatives, we look to the Federal Government to deliver a budget that reflects the priorities, needs and values of the community. By neglecting to address housing affordability in this week’s Budget, the Government has failed our community.

As there is no silver bullet to fix housing affordability, it is the responsibility of each level of government to have a long-term plan, delivered through purposeful policies and investment.

Rather than provide a longterm plan to ensure every Australian has a home, this budget focuses on tax cuts. Modest tax cuts, ultimately favouring those on high incomes, which will make no difference to those struggling to find an affordable home.

Every day that we have Tasmanians without a place to call home, we hurt our community and diminish our shared future. Solving housing affordability goes hand-inhand with tackling our state’s health issues, improving education and employment outcomes, and reducing crime.

Rental affordability, particularly in Hobart, has become dire. In Anglicare’s Rental Affordability Snapshot this year, we found that none of the advertised properties in the South were affordable for a range of Tasmanians.

People on Youth Allowance, Newstart Allowance or single parents on Parenting Payments were locked out of the South’s private rental market.

Even households earning a minimum wage had only a small, and diminishing, pool of rental homes that could be considered affordable.

Frontline housing services tell us there’s been an expansion in the range of people seeking assistance. Many Tasmanians with a job, good references and a solid credit history are now unable to find a rental. They’re turning to services for help, and these services are pressed to find even temporary options for the most vulnerable.

Anglicare services in the North and North-West are being approached by people from the South hoping to find affordable housing in those regions. Increasingly, this is proving a false hope — the latest snapshot recorded a significant drop in the number of properties advertised for rent in the North-West, and a decrease in affordability in the remaining pool of properties.

It is not unusual for Tasmanians on income support payments to be spending up to 75 per cent of their income on rent. This is unsustainable and leaves them unable to afford other basics like food, utilities, transport and healthcare.

For decades, we have had policy settings in place that have led us to this point.

They include tax settings that have made housing a mechanism of wealth generation rather than a basic human right. There’s been under-investment and neglect of public and social housing. Income support payments have been allowed to fall far behind the real cost of living.

Let’s remind ourselves. Newstart is less than $40 per day, it is less than 40 per cent of the minimum wage. Youth Allowance for someone under 22 is about $32 per day.

In the face of united calls from the community and business sectors to raise these payments, the Federal Government has again neglected to act in this Budget.

To say this is a missed opportunity is much too trite. There are people’s lives and children’s futures at stake.

People on income support payments are drowning in a sea of impossible housing costs, escalating costs of living, harsher penalties and fivetimes more job seekers than jobs. In this Budget the Government has emphatically turned its back on these people.

For more than two decades the government of the day has failed in their stewardship of our social safety net. Perhaps it is time for that job to be given to an independent body who can set reasonable rates of payment that reflect the values of our community.

Tasmanians have a particularly strong sense of community.

There is less distance between us — geographically, economically and socially. We can already feel the reverberations as some among us are allowed to fall further behind. It is not in the character of our state to do nothing.

We call on every level of government to do more. It will require bold, long-term commitment and investment and is likely to go well beyond what is politically comfortable.

There is an enormous evidence base to map out clear ways forward. But governments will require resolve to stay the course and a commitment to our shared values. It is incumbent on all of us to encourage action, and to hold decision-makers to account.