Cost of Living Report No. 29

Poverty reduced in the NT but only short lived

In its 29th Cost of Living Report released today, the Northern Territory Council of Social Service (NTCOSS) highlights that the Federal Government’s Coronavirus Supplement payments have prevented thousands of Territory households from falling into poverty.

This Report comes at a critical time for the NT in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with a recently re-elected Government with substantial budget constraints due to factors which include the reduction in GST revenue.

Mr Jonathan Pilbrow, NTCOSS Policy Advisor, said this data is vital for understanding and addressing poverty, and in recent months the Territory has seen significant improvements to cost of living issues.

“Since March 2020 the number of Territorians receiving JobSeeker or Youth Allowance rose by around 6550 people, but the Coronavirus Supplement payment of $550 introduced in April 2020 has meant that their incomes have been above the poverty line,” said Mr Pilbrow.

In addition, the Report found that free child care and free public transport for several months during the pandemic have further eased cost of living pressures for many of these households.

“We have also seen low overall inflation in Darwin over the past year and some price decreases in key areas such as rent, fuel price, and maintenance and repair of homes due to Federal and Territory Coronavirus stimulus responses.

“However the effects are not felt equally.

“While the average price of unleaded petrol has decreased in Darwin to 117.9 cents/L, in the Central Australia region it can still be more than double at 250 cents/L.

“Alice Springs is still one of the most expensive places to rent privately in the NT and even with the Coronavirus Supplement there were almost no affordable private rental properties for singles on the JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance.

“The NT Government’s home improvement economic stimulus also did not include public and social housing, meaning low income earners and those most in need missed out altogether,” said Mr Pilbrow

“Furthermore, the benefits gained from the Coronavirus Supplement will be short-lived as the supplement rate was reduced on 25 September 2020 cutting roughly $10M per fortnight from the NT economy and putting the incomes of around 33,835 Territorians back on the poverty line. The payments are currently scheduled to cease after 31 December 2020.

“Long-term policy reforms are required, with initiatives specifically targeting low income earners and remote community residents, as they make up the majority of the households doing it tough. NTCOSS also calls for the full Coronavirus Supplement to be maintained until it is replaced with a permanent, adequate increase,” said Mr Pilbrow.

Key Report Recommendations to the Northern Territory Government include:

Transport Affordability

  • Improve affordability for Private Vehicles Owners by extending the Motor Vehicle Registration Concessions to all Commonwealth Health Care Card holders
  • Make existing bus services more affordable and available by establishing Pension/Health Care Card concession rates for users of remote bus services and ensure consistency of fare structures across different services

Housing Affordability

  • Improve energy efficiency for social housing by establishing a post-pandemic economic stimulus program focused on energy efficiency (and climate appropriate) upgrades for social housing
  • A substantial and sustained increase in expenditure on preventative maintenance for housing to enable more Housing for Health programs to be rolled out. This will help ensure more Territorian households have access to safe, healthy and functioning housing

Key Report Recommendations to the Federal Government

Adequate Income Support Payments

  • Keep the Coronavirus Supplement be kept in place until the social security system is fixed for good so that it keeps people out of poverty, with an income of $500 per week for a single person
  • Increase the Remote Area Allowance, in recognition of the high costs of living experienced by remote area households.

Click here to read the Cost of Living Issue No. 29, September 2020

Click here to download the 29th Cost of Living Factsheet