Vulnerability is a fact of life for millions of Australians. Nearly three million of us live below the poverty line, including almost 750,000 children.
Industry research tells us that:
- Almost 50% of people have sometimes or always struggled to pay a utility bill in the last 12 months.
- 43% regularly pay their bill using some form of credit, including borrowing from family or payday lenders because they don’t have the funds available.
- 10% indicated that they are currently in serious financial hardship and are unable to pay their bills.
- Vulnerability and hardship is not just an issue for long-term welfare recipients, which is often the perception – it affects people from all walks of life.
Right now, millions of Australians are only a lost job, a relationship breakdown or a medical emergency away from falling into serious financial distress.
Who is at risk of vulnerability?
The reality is, we are all at risk of experiencing vulnerability – but some factors can increase that risk.
People impacted by family violence: Family violence can increase the complexity of financial hardship. It is recognised that the effects of financial abuse can have multi-generational repercussions. Many victims of family violence find themselves homeless and fearing for their safety and the safety of their children. Paying a utility bill falls way down on their list of priorities.
People with a disability or illness: Physical and mental illness and disability can make individuals far more susceptible to financial vulnerability. The vulnerability can occur very quickly – for example, after receiving a large medical bill – or it can slowly creep up on a person as their disability or illness erodes their ability to meet their commitments. 17.8% of people with a disability that limits their core activities are currently living in poverty. This is significantly higher than the overall adult poverty rate of 12.8%.
Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities: People born overseas are nearly 50% more likely to have financial difficulties than those born in Australia – those for whom English is not their first language are particularly at risk. Language and cultural differences present a two-way barrier for this fast-growing group of vulnerable people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: Indigenous Australians are far more likely to experience hardship than non-indigenous Australians. They also experience a lower general standard of living, including lower life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality and higher unemployment rates.
Barriers to accessing support
Industry research tells us that there are a range of reasons why people might not seek or have access to support:
Lack of awareness: Two thirds of people (66%) do not realise that businesses offer services to support vulnerability. This may be due to language or cultural issues, but it may also be a lack of awareness that services are out there.
Embarrassment or mistrust: 41% of people experiencing financial vulnerability are too ashamed to ask for help. A distrust of large companies may also be a factor. Awareness-raising and trust-building can lessen the impacts of these barriers.
Lack of early identification: While early identification can be difficult, it is one of the keys to supporting at-risk people to manage their finances and them from falling into financial hardship. We know that more people are relying on credit to pay their bills – this may be an early warning signal.
Siloed services: Very few people seek assistance from all their providers. Every organisation has its own processes, policies and work cultures and negotiating this web of help can be stressful and difficult. Information-sharing between organisations is a way of tackling this barrier.