NCOSS's latest Cost of Living report shows the sobering lengths vulnerable NSW residents are going to in order to pay their energy bills.
The survey of 440 people living below the poverty line found that 36% of respondents were sometimes forced to go without dental treatment, 25% without medical treatment and 9% go without a substantial meal on a regular basis. 6.5% of respondents' children are forced to miss a substantial meal as a result of energy bills.
NCOSS CEO Tracy Howe says the impact of energy prices is not only financial; it can have serious consequences in terms of health, mental health and the broader opportunities available to individuals and families.
“We spoke to some of the most vulnerable people and families in our community, who are living below the poverty line, to hear from them directly and what we heard was shocking.
"The rising cost of electricity affects almost everyone, but it has a much greater impact on people on very low incomes, as it makes up a much larger proportion of their weekly expenditure.
“For these individuals and families the reality is that they are skipping meals, delaying health treatment, not using hot water for bathing and going to bed early to save energy – all to pay their energy bills.
"To see families in our State struggling to put food on the table because of power bills is simply unacceptable. All children deserve access to healthy food so they get the best start in life", said Ms Howe.
The report comes after the release of the Finkel review last week, and as energy retailers begin expanding hardship programs in preparation for electricity price hikes.
Over 45% of survey respondents also said policy efforts for affordable essential services should be the NSW Government's highest priority.
"We know that if we are to make real progress we must take the time to listen to those who are currently missing out."
"We acknowledge that Government and retailers do offer a range of supports to low-income households. But the picture we see is that this assistance is not always working well for those who need it most. Supports are poorly understood, not well accessed, and often undermined by a lack of coordination."
"Retailers need to do better to ensure that vulnerable people are on better deals, so that their bills are as low as possible, and that government supports provide the most possible benefit to them."
"Energy is an essential service that many of us take for granted. But many in our community, like those we heard from, are clearly struggling to afford its high and growing cost. More needs to be done to support them," concluded Ms Howe.
Media contact: Stephanie Baker, 0416 622 606
The NSW Government can take some steps to help people on low incomes cover the costs of their energy needs. Recommendations to come out of the report include:
- Quarantine a significant portion of funds from the lease of electricity network assets to fund substantial energy efficiency updates for vulnerable households, including generation, storage and other efficiency measures that will reduce the long-term burden of energy costs.
- Commence work on reform of rental tenancy laws to improve minimum efficiency standards of rental properties, and facilitate the adoption of more significant energy efficiency measures for vulnerable rental households.
- Expand the Home Energy Action Program as part of measures being considered in the Draft Plan to Save NSW Energy and Money, linking sustainability and affordability.
- Review the EAPA system to improve availability, awareness, ease of access and linkages to other supports for long-term sustainability.
- That eligibility for the Low Income Household Energy Rebate and Gas Rebate be extended to holders of Commonwealth Low Income Health Care Cards.
- That the NSW Government work with the Commonwealth Department of Social Services to improve the coordination of supports and rebates for people on low-incomes.
- That the Low Income Household Energy Rebate, with additional funds reallocated from the discontinued Family Energy Rebate, transition to a percentage-based concession providing eligible households with a 17.5% rebate on their electricity bills.
- Work with retailers to improve the effectiveness of competition, and the way retail practices and supports interact with assistance for vulnerable households.