Sydney, Australia

Australians suffering financial distress are being urged to seek help about money matters through The Salvation Army’s free financial services to avoid falling into long-term poverty.

The organisation says new research shows more than a quarter of Australians are concerned about poverty and hardship in their community, and half the country believes housing affordability is an issue.

Australia Salvation Army Moneycare

The Salvation Army provided more than 37,000 advice sessions through its free financial counselling service Moneycare from January to July this year. PICTURE: Courtesy of the Salvation Army.

From January to July, 2021, The Salvation Army’s free financial counselling service Moneycare provided more than 37,000 advice sessions and care to more than 8,700 individuals in financial need across the country, it said.

During Anti-Poverty Week - which runs from 17th-23rd October, it is encouraging people to register for its free financial tips webinar, as well as engaging with its other financial services and supports.

This includes through the 'Doorways' initiative, which offers emergency financial relief. Kristen Hartnett, Salvation Army Moneycare financial counsellor, says they continue to see the impact of debt and financial stress on individuals and families who don’t seek support early enough.

“Leaving or ignoring the problem only escalates unnecessary debt and stress,” Hartnett said in a statement.

She said one way people got caught into accruing debt was through buy-now-pay-later schemes, which were used particularly by single parents, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic which had resulted in an increase in online shopping as people experienced prolonged lockdowns.

Amongst Salvation Army clients with BNPL debt, 48 per cent had more than $A1000 accrued, the organisation said.

“We want to implore Aussies that there are other options available which will not have the same devastating impacts,” Hartnett said.

The Salvation Army’s campaign follows the Federal Government’s announcement late in September that it would phase out financial support payments associated with the pandemic, linked to when states or territories reached vaccination milestones.

The move drew condemnation from the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), whose members include Anglicare Australia, Baptist Care Australia, Christians Against Poverty and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, which said it would leave some people without an income.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said at the time it was “unconscionable to use broad vaccination rate data as the mechanism to cut off income support to people without paid work”, regardless of whether a lockdown had lifted or what the actual vaccination rates were for a range of at-risk groups.

“Cutting off disaster support will see many of the 1.7 million people currently receiving disaster payments in NSW, ACT and Victoria end up on the grossly inadequate JobSeeker Payment of $A45 a day, which is less than half the $750 [per week] Covid Disaster Payment,” Goldie said. “It will leave others with no income at all, including people on temporary visas who are ineligible for JobSeeker and other income support.”

She said it was “appalling” to give hundreds of thousands of people, including single parents, older people and people with disability one week’s notice that their payments would stop unless they apply again [in the case of NSW].

“We know many people are unable to go straight back into paid work after a lockdown, which is what we saw last year,” she said.

“The OECD has told Australia it needs to increase its unemployment payments because they drive people into poverty.”

Meanwhile, statistics released on Tuesday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed there were 1.4 million jobless families in June, 2021, down from 1.5 million in June, 2020.

This represented 19.5 per cent of all families, meaning each family member aged over 15 years was unemployed, retired or otherwise not in the labour force, the ABS said.

Of these, an estimated 480,000 children aged from birth to 14-years-old were living in jobless families, down from 580,000 in June, 2020.

“Please reach out to The Salvation Army and don’t struggle in silence. We can talk you through your options and support you on your financial journey to improve your debt,” Hartnett said.

People wanting to find out more about The Salvation Army’s services during Anti-Poverty Week can visit salvationarmy.org.au/antipovertyweek.