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Salvation Army addresses Senate Inquiry into worsening rental crisis

The Salvation Army’s Jennifer Kirkaldy (centre) addressed the Senate Inquiry into the worsening housing crisis last week. Jennifer is with Michael Chester (Co-CEO Uniting WA) and Claerwen Little (CEO Uniting Care).

“The Salvation Army believes that every person should be able to live with dignity … That is not the Australia we live in right now.”

So said Jennifer Kirkaldy, Salvation Army General Manager of Policy and Advocacy, when she appeared before the Senate Inquiry into the worsening rental crisis last week.

“We envision a world where all Australians have access to safe, appropriate, and affordable housing (with support available where required), and the financial means to access the other essentials of life,” Jennifer said in her opening statement to the inquiry.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Jennifer continued, highlighting the work of The Salvation Army in the last financial year through the provision of 1.86 million sessions of care.

This included:

  • Nearly 760,000 nights of crisis accommodation;

  • More than 1.52 million meals to people accessing homelessness services;

  • Support for almost 10,000 women and children who experienced family and domestic violence.

  • More than 50,000 nights of accommodation to young people who were at risk of or experienced homelessness.

“In our Social Justice Stocktake, affordability was in the top five social justice issues seen in every single electorate in Australia,” Jennifer explained. “But while housing affordability, and especially the worsening rental crisis, is widespread, it is not affecting us all equally.

“Recent research conducted by The Salvation Army with people accessing our emergency relief services shows that, for a segment of our community, the rental crisis is desperate.”

Extreme housing stress

“Median housing costs for people accessing our service had increased 14 per cent in just one year to a total of $250 per week. That is less than the average Australian spends (which sits at $273 a week) but represents a significantly greater percentage of their income.

Jennifer Kirkaldy representing The Salvation Army during the housing inquiry, with Simon Schrapel (Chief Executive Uniting Communities).

“While Australians on average spend around 14 per cent of their income on housing, the people accessing our services are spending around 41 per cent of their income.

“We would say a person is in housing stress if they spend over 30 per cent of their income on housing. They are in extreme housing stress if they are spending over 50 per cent of their income on housing.

“For the record, 46 per cent of the people coming to us who are reliant on the JobSeeker payment are in extreme housing stress.”

Rising homelessness

“The worsening housing affordability crisis is contributing to rising rates of homelessness and is plunging more and more people into poverty. Combined with cost-of-living increases and a critical shortage of social housing shortage, it is obvious why this situation needs immediate attention.

“The Salvation Army welcomes the Housing Announcement by National Cabinet on 16 August 2023.

“But, while we anticipate that these initiatives could help, they do not address the immediate and urgent housing affordability needs for people on low incomes or of people who are at risk of or already experiencing homelessness.

“In the current climate there are three actions in particular that need attention:

  • The first is fixing our social security system. We acknowledge the modest increase that will apply next month, but the fact remains that income support payments, especially JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and the Commonwealth Rental Assistance are too low.

  • The second is to invest in social housing stock. Again, we appreciate what has already been announced, but social housing fulfils a critical need in our community, and current targets (while better than nothing) are not ambitious enough.

  • Finally, we are hopeful about the current process for a National Housing and Homelessness Plan, and we need to ensure that that plan is fit for purpose and driven by lived experience. In particular, we believe that a dedicated housing plan for children and young people will be critical to success.

“Safe and affordable housing is a critical foundation for every other aspect of a person’s life. Thank you for the work you are doing to draw attention to rental affordability issues and to find solutions. We look forward to being of assistance.”


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