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From housing and homelessness to family violence and mental health, NCOSS is highlighting the social issues that must be addressed by the next Member for Upper Hunter after this Saturday’s by-election.

In response to an NCOSS survey, the candidates have outlined their plans to drive down social disadvantage across the Upper Hunter, which can be viewed here.

The responses come as one local homeless support service is seeing demand for its services skyrocket, and follows NATSEM research commissioned by NCOSS, showing some Upper Hunter communities are struggling with levels of economic disadvantage above the state average.

Location – SA2% of pop living in economic disadvantage*
Singleton13.1% (1,900 people)
Muswellbrook17.5% (1,900 people)
Dungog12.7% (1,000 people)
Gloucester16.9% (900 people)
Quirindi13.1% (900 people)
Scone12.1% (800 people)
NSW Average13.3%

*Economic disadvantage has been calculated as 50% below the median income, excluding housing costs, in line with ACOSS methodology for national/state poverty rates and using 2016 Census data.

Concerningly, this data does not include the impacts of the COVID-19 recession, with recent modelling showing areas in the Hunter have been among the hardest hit in NSW.

NCOSS CEO Joanna Quilty welcomed the strong commitment from the candidates to address housing and homelessness, mental health, family violence and financial hardship.

“Some candidates have stepped up and made strong commitments to address some of the big social issues across the Upper Hunter,” Ms Quilty said.

“Candidates who responded recognise that people doing it tough need urgent support, but all too often local services are not available, or where they are they struggle with overwhelming demand and too few resources.

“While perspectives are different, they indicate compassion and commitment, and a number have taken up the invitation to meet with local community organisations to better understand the issues and challenges,” Ms Quilty said. “We need this commitment to translate into action on the ground when the by-election is over”.

General Manager from Upper Hunter Homeless Support, Lewis Millington-Blazey highlighted the significant issues faced locally that must be addressed.

“It’s a multi-speed economy here in the Upper Hunter. Some people are making a fortune and many others are sleeping under the bridge, or in the park, or in their cars,” Mr Millington-Blazey said.

“There are shutdowns on at a power station and a mine right now and that means we can’t put people into any of the hotels or caravan parks we often use for temporary emergency housing because they are all full of out-of-town workers.

“We’re funded to work with 442 people per year and we’re seeing double that. And funding for those services hasn’t changed since 2014, when there was no data on homelessness in the Upper Hunter at all.

“We have access to nine properties across the entire Upper Hunter to house 800-900 people per year. On top of that we have landlords charging $400 per room on the private rental market, meaning they are totally out of reach for anyone on JobSeeker or a pension.

“Our organisation welcomes candidates to meet with and discuss with us our issues here in the Upper Hunter,” he said.

Media contact: Nick Trainor 0407 078 138

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