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‘Absolutely heartbreaking’: how one family’s life changed forever

Jane and Tom Hill* were a young couple with a home, small children and their lives in front of them when a car accident changed everything.
Nanjing Night Net

Mr Hill, the family breadwinner, was a passenger in the accident and suffered catastrophic injuries. He battled chronic pain for a decade before reluctantly leaving his job working for a security door firm.

With five children, the Windsor couple have found themselves in a position they never thought possible, trying to get by on Centrelink payments and charitable donations.

“When Tom was working we were living within our means,” said Mrs Hill, who is his carer.

“We weren’t rich but we were going OK, paying our mortgage and covering all the bills. When Tom was unable to work, that all changed.

“We are very good with our money because we don’t want debt collectors chasing us and we don’t want to lose our home, but there is not enough income to cover the mortgage, the power bills, groceries and medical expenses.

“It’s frightfully embarrassing having five children and having to go to charities for help. It doesn’t look good and it doesn’t feel good.”

Research by the Salvation Army to be released on Wednesday has found a large proportion of low-income earners in the same position as the Hills.

The sixth annual Economic and Social Impact Survey found that skyrocketing housing costs are driving an increasing number of people into poverty, forcing them to choose between rent and putting food on the table or paying bills.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Salvation Army fundraising and communications director Leigh Cleave said.

The survey of almost 1400 Salvation Army clients, including 638 households with children, found two-thirds were living in extreme housing stress, spending more than half their income on accommodation costs.

Almost 70 per cent of respondents said they could not afford to buy enough food, with two in five saying their budget doesn’t stretch to eating fresh fruit and vegetables every day. One-quarter of respondents said they could not provide three meals a day for their children.

The results found single parents were worst off, left with just $14.35 a day after they paying housing costs. Recipients of welfare benefits were left with $17.14 a day after their accommodation costs were covered.

The report, which comes out ahead of this weekend’s Red Shield Appeal, makes a number of recommendations aimed at alleviating poverty including developing a national plan to address growing inequality, improving employment opportunities for vulnerable people and boosting emergency relief.

Captain Paul Moulds leads the Salvation Army’s Auburn centre where plans are underway to open a market for rescued food donated by supermarkets and wholesalers.

“People are telling us that life is really hard for them,” he said.

“We can’t keep up with the demand. People are coming in, they are not asking for money, they are asking for a bag of groceries to stop them from starving on the streets.”

* Names have been changed.

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