"Whole new cohort" seeking emergency relief signals looming crisis, St Vincent de Paul Society warns

Picture: Simon Sturzaker
Picture: Simon Sturzaker

A shift in the numbers of Tasmanians seeking emergency relief is just an early sign of a looming problem, warns an emergency relief expert.

St Vincent de Paul Society CEO Lara Alexander says the effect of cutting off JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments in September could be an "earth shattering" event, likening it to her memories living through the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

Despite the cushion provided by the government's COVID support packages, she said a "whole new cohort" of clients had been presenting themselves to emergency relief providers over the past few months.

She said they were reaching out for help with essentials such as electricity bills, medicine and groceries.

"It's been a steady increase in new people coming through the doors," she said.

"Overall the numbers might not look a lot greater than pre-covid, but it's the mix that has changed. You drill down into the detail and see that quite a big proportion are new clients."

This is like a domino affect, it will spread itself with tentacles in various parts of society.

Lara Alexander, St Vincent de Paul Society CEO

She said most charity and community organisations were bracing themselves for the end of September, likening the current situation to the "eye of the storm".

"This is like a domino affect, it will spread itself with tentacles in various parts of society," she said.

"The more comfortable you are materially and financially, the more able you are to look after yourself. There is a longer term issue with people's mental and physical health ahead.

"We need to start thinking now as to what that long term solution past September is going to look like."

She said issues in the North-West such as elective surgery waiting lists and the "tyranny of distance" in providing services would only be worsened by a sudden peak in poverty.

"What we don't want to do is be talking about the same issues we had before all this. It will be different, I don't think that people should be deluded in thinking it's a switch we can flick back to normal," she said.

"Charities that work in the sector have the data and the experience. Time is of the essence and it's not that far away.

"We need something, whatever form that takes. It may not be the JobSeeker, but whatever we call it we need to continue.

"It's time to think, 'right, how can we turn this into a good, long-term, positive effect for us?'. You have to rebuild."


This story "Whole new cohort" seeking emergency relief signals looming crisis, relief provider warns first appeared on The Advocate.