ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Higher cost of living means Canberra’s hidden poor do it tougher

13 October 2013

Media release by ACT Anti-Poverty Week Committee.

The often invisible face of poverty in Canberra has been unmasked by new research prepared by NATSEM for a coalition of local community sector organisations who are organising Anti-Poverty Week in the ACT.

Disadvantage in the ACT: Report for ACT Anti-Poverty Week finds that 1 in every 13 Canberrans is experiencing disadvantage despite living in a region of relative wealth. Key findings are that the Territory has one of the highest levels of homelessness in Australia, and that inequality is getting worse. Significantly, Canberra’s very high cost of living is being driven by the unenviable position of Canberra having Australia’s highest capital city rents.

“Canberra is a wealthy community and a great place to live if you are not suffering disadvantage. However this report not only shows that disadvantage exists in the ACT but on some measures Canberra is doing worse than other cities,” said Paul Trezise, CEO of St Vincent de Paul Canberra/Goulburn and Co-Chair of the ACT Anti -Poverty Week Committee.

Mr Trezise said the worsening levels of inequality in Canberra is a concern.

“One of the problems with being poor when everyone around you is rich, is that your low income has a greater impact and this leads to further social exclusion,” he said. “Think what it means for a child in school whose parents can’t afford a uniform or equipment the other children take for granted.”

The report, prepared by Associate Professor Robert Tanton, Dr Yogi Vidyattama and Dr Itismita Mohanty from The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), was commissioned by eight local community agencies running ACT Anti-Poverty Week 2013 – Anglicare, Belconnen Community Service, Northside Community Service, Red Cross, St Vincent de Paul, The Smith Family, Woden Community Service and YWCA Canberra - as well as the ACT Council Of Social Service (ACTCOSS) and the ACT Government Community Services Directorate. 

ACTCOSS Director Susan Helyar said Canberra’s big challenge is its high cost of living which makes life very difficult for households surviving on Government benefits or minimum wage incomes.

“The report indicates that the high cost of living is being driven by the highest rents of any capital city in Australia. If we are serious about tackling poverty in this city then we have to address both the high cost of living, and better target income support so we can increase payments to the people who need them most,” she said.

Report author Associate Professor Robert Tanton, said that the advantage of this report is that it takes a multi-faceted look at the issue of poverty in the ACT.

“Other studies often mask the level of disadvantage in Canberra because overall the population is relatively wealthy.  But if you can’t pay rent, put food on your table or keep your car on the road, the fact that you are in a minority is no comfort at all,” he said.


Paul Trezise (Chief Executive Officer, St Vincents de Paul, Canberra): 0412 256 014
Associate Professor Robert Tanton (Acting Director NATSEM University of Canberra): 0420 319 450
Susan Helyar (Director, ACT Council of Social Service): 0448 791 987

Briefing Notes

Three Key Messages

  • Over 28,000 Canberrans are experiencing disadvantage, and they do it particularly tough because of the high cost of living in this city. A fact often masked because we are a relatively well off community.
  • Inequality in Canberra is getting worse. Canberra has one of highest rates of homelessness in Australia
  • Biggest challenge for tackling poverty in Canberra is overcoming the very high cost of living particularly the highest rents of any capital city.

Key Findings of Disadvantage in the ACT: report for Anti-Poverty Week

  • There are 28,639 people experiencing disadvantage in Canberra. These households face one of the highest costs of living of all capital cities in Australia.
  • The ACT has one of the highest homelessness rates in Australia, only behind the Northern Territory. In total, there were 1,785 people homeless on Census night in Canberra. This is more than were homeless in Tasmania (1,579), that has a smaller population.
  • While Canberra’s overall housing stress levels are low, this hides the fact that rents are the highest of any capital city in Australia. Because of this, there is proportionally fewer properties affordable to those on the minimum wage
  • Overall, there were 14 Canberra suburbs with levels of financial stress above the national average. (People are deemed to be in financial stress when they can’t find $2,000 for an emergency in a week.)

National Anti-Poverty Week runs from October 13 to 19 and aims to strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty; and to encourage action to address these problems.

In the ACT a calendar of activities has been prepared, culminating in a major debate “Will poverty always be with us” to be held at the University of Canberra 11am to 1pm on Thursday, October 17.  Everyone is welcome to attend the debate, and registrations can be made at [email protected] .