Anglicare Victoria Policy, Research and Innovation

no. 2 June 2009

Anglicare Victoria’s Hardship Survey 2009
SArAH WiSe And AndreW Yule WitH G A b r i e l l e d e G e n H A r d t A n d S A n i d o WA
in the first week of April 2009, 42 people seeking assistance from Anglicare Victoria emergency relief services located in lilydale, Clayton, Wangaratta and the Melbourne Cbd were surveyed about their personal and financial situation. individuals represented a broad cross-section of household types, ages, ethnic groups and education background, yet all lived on low incomes and very few had any accumulated savings or home contents insurance to help them through hard times. Many went without essential items such as prescription medicines, dental care, regular social contact and a decent and secure home because they simply could not afford them. Approximately one-half of those surveyed had recently suffered a serious illness or injury and a high proportion had a close family member die or experience a serious personal illness or injury as well. Approximately one-quarter of sole mothers and lone persons had a potential serious mental illness. these findings shed light on the plight of some less fortunate Australians, who not only need material aid in order to access the essentials of life but may also benefit from referral to mental health resources and a range of other supports.

the social security safety net provided by the Australian Government is designed to ensure all citizens have the minimum income required to purchase those items considered essential to decent and respectable living. Yet, each year tens of thousands of families are forced to seek help from community organisations because they are unable to afford basic items such as food, amenities and housing. Anglicare Victoria is a significant provider of emergency relief in the form of food parcels, financial assistance in paying household bills, no-interest loan schemes and crisis accommodation. each year Anglicare Victoria conducts a Hardship Survey to raise awareness of disadvantage and deprivation, and to generate support for better services and policies. the Hardship Survey seeks to address the following questions: Who is seeking support from Anglicare Victoria’s emergency relief programs? What types of essential items are those in financial crisis unable to afford? to what extent does deprivation overlap with serious mental illness and stressful life events? during the first week in April 2009 surveys were administered to clients at Anglicare Victoria emergency relief services in lilydale, Clayton, Wangaratta and the Melbourne Cbd. A total of 42 surveys were completed.

© Anglicare Victoria 2009 the Policy research and innovation unit located within Anglicare Victoria undertakes research, advocacy and knowledge exchange to inspire developments that will benefit vulnerable children, families and their communities. For more information please phone 03 9412 6133 or go to iSbn 1234 5678

Anglicare Victoria’s Hardship Survey 2009

the K6 screening scale1 was used to identify potential serious mental illness, based on six questions about negative emotional states in the four weeks prior to interview. the deprivation index2, which comprises 26 items that Australians currently regard as the essentials of life, and an index of thirteen stressful life events adapted from the life experiences Survey3 were the other measures used.

What types of essential items are those in financial crisis unable to afford?
to establish whether clients were deprived of certain items, and to differentiate between choice and constraint, they were first asked whether they had certain essential items or not. those who indicated that they did not have the items were then asked whether they were constrained by a lack of resources from obtaining them. Findings on the 26 items included in the deprivation index showed that the majority of clients had no accumulated savings or insurance for their personal belongings; that is, 79 per cent did not have $500 in the event of an emergency and 60 per cent did not have home contents insurance. A high proportion of clients were also deprived of prescription medicines (43%) and dental treatment (52%). Approximately one in five clients did not have a decent and secure home (19%), and lacked other home essentials such as a washing machine (18%) and warm clothes and bedding (17%). While the numbers of valid cases were quite small (n = 16), 25 per cent had children who were forced to share a bed and approximately one-third had children who went without current schoolbooks and new school clothes, a yearly dental check up and out-of-school activities. Approximately one in five clients did not have regular social contact because they could not afford it and 63 per cent of clients were forced to do without an annual holiday. the proportion of clients lacking essential items was broadly similar to the percentages of different forms of deprivation reported in the large-scale study of deprivation and social exclusion from which the current deprivation index was developed5. the incidence of all forms of deprivation are reported in table 1.

Who is seeking support from Anglicare Victoria’s emergency relief programs?
those who participated in the survey represent a broad cross-section of ages, ethnic groups, household types and education background. • the sample can be divided into four main household types; sole mother households (19%), lone person households (36%), couple only households (26%) and households comprising couples with children (19%)4 (see Figure 1 below). More than half of the sole mothers were born in a non-english speaking country (57%), whereas just over one-third (38%) of the total sample were Australian immigrants. respondent age was higher in the groups comprising couples with children and couples only (Mean = 54.9 and 61.6 years) than groups comprising sole mother households and lone person households (Mean = 34.8 and 40.8 years). Among households with children, the mean number of children was 2.6. one-third of the sample had completed Year 12 or equivalent (33%) but proportions ranged across the household groups from 18 per cent (couples only) to 55 per cent (sole mothers). the vast majority (71%) of survey participants were women.

• •

What is the overlap between hardship and stressful life events?
Clients were asked whether they had experienced 13 life changes or stressful events over the past 12 months. only two (5%) clients had no incidence of stressful life events. expectedly, more than half (53%) of the sample had experienced major financial problems. What was striking, however, was that 54 per cent of the sample had experienced a major personal illness or injury and 44 per cent had a close family member experience a major illness or injury. Almost one in five clients had a close family member who had died in the past 12 months (18%). there was also a high incidence of burglary (25%) and a high proportion of clients (23%) were forced to move house. it also appeared that sole mothers experienced a higher rate of stressful life events than other groups, particularly in relation to assault, relationship breakdown and spousal violence. Findings on stressful life events are reported in table 2.

Lone person 36% Couple only 26% Sole mother 19% Couples with children 19% 0 10 20 30 40

Figure 1. Representation of household types in the Hardship Survey 2009. %

Anglicare Victoria Policy, research and innovation brief

Table 1: Incidence of different forms of deprivation Percentage deprived of essential item 78.6 63.4 59.5 52.4 46.2 42.9 37.5 33.3 33.3 33.3 27.6 25.0 24.4 22.0 19.0 17.9 16.7 14.3 14.3 11.9 11.9 10.0 9.5 9.5 7.7 4.9

Essential item up to $500 in savings for an emergency A week’s holiday away from home each year Home contents insurance (insurance for your belongings in your home) dental treatment if needed Presents for family or friends at least once a year Able to buy medicines prescribed by a doctor A separate bedroom for each child aged over 10 years A hobby or leisure (out-of-school) activity for child/ren A yearly dental check-up for children up-to-date schoolbooks and new school clothes Comprehensive motor vehicle insurance A separate bed for each child Computer skills regular social contact with other people A decent and secure home A washing machine Warm clothes and bedding, if it’s cold A telephone A substantial (good) meal at least once a day Medical treatment if needed A roof and gutters that do not leak Secure locks on doors & windows Heating in at least one room of the house Furniture in reasonable condition Children can participate in school activities and outings A television

Table 2: Incidence of stressful life events Stressful life event Major personal illness or injury Major financial problems Close family member experience a major illness or injury Gained a new family member burgled or robbed Moved house, but not through choice Close family member died Assaulted or mugged legal troubles or involvement with the police Sacked or made redundant divorced or broken an engagement or steady relationship divorce/broken engagement due to conflict Partner/spouse died Mean number of life events n(%) 22(53.7) 21(52.5) 17(43.6) 13(33.3) 10(25.0) 9(22.5) 6(18.2) 5(12.8) 4(10.0) 3(11.1) 2(5.7) 2(100) 1(2.9) 1.8


Anglicare Victoria’s Hardship Survey 2009

What is the overlap between hardship and serious mental illness?
the K6 screening scale detected a worryingly high incidence of potential serious mental illness among the Hardship Survey client group. overall, 17 per cent of the sample had scores at or above the cut-off indicating a potential serious mental illness. it is noteworthy that none of the clients who were living with a spouse had a potential serious mental illness, yet approximately one-quarter of sole mothers (25%) and lone persons (28%) fitted this category.

in Australia, receipt of social security benefits and otherwise low income does not automatically translate into deprivation of life’s essentials. in addition to a range of public services and support provided by community agencies, individuals and families are often able to draw on other resources to pull through hard times. However, Anglicare Victoria’s Hardship Survey 2009 indicates that a high proportion of clients requiring emergency relief miss out on things no-one should have to go without in Australia today, such as prescription medicines, a decent and secure home and regular social contact. As well as improving access to items that many clients appear to be lacking, the path to greater self-reliance seems to involve innovative models of service delivery capable of tackling the limitations and special needs some clients face in addition to financial hardship, such as ill health (mental and physical), housing instability and social isolation.

Findings from Anglicare Victoria’s Hardship Survey 2009 highlight the plight of a small number of our clients accessing emergency food assistance. it appears that their financial difficulties connect in a very real way to deprivation of prescription medicines and dental treatment, lack of accumulated savings, respite in the form of an annual holiday and a host of other basic necessities including regular social contact and education opportunities for children. the data also points to a relationship between financial hardship and stressful, chaotic and traumatic events, particularly among sole mothers. Physical health problems feature strongly here. Finally, although there was no investigation into the cause of the feelings, financial hardship and potential serious mental illness co-occur for approximately one in four of the sole mothers and lone persons surveyed. the overlapping and interrelated nature of financial hardship, stressful life events and serious mental illness calls for a service response that goes beyond the provision of material and monetary assistance to one which addresses the psychological, interpersonal and social dimensions of poverty and financial hardship. Given the reported high rate of social isolation, mental illness, as well as the proportion of clients who do not live with a spouse, co-located programs and activities that build social networks and connections and inject some enjoyment of life may be a productive and relatively straightforward beginning. these data also suggest problems with the affordability of prescription medicines and dental care. Although this is associated with a high rate of physical health problems, the direction of the relationship is unclear. However, these findings warrant a closer look at the affordability of prescription medicines and dental care for those on low incomes, as well as opportunities for provision of preventative health care. the high rate of potential serious mental illness and related events such as domestic violence calls for screening and referral services to be built into emergency relief services.

the authors would like to acknowledge and thank the clients who gave their time to participating in this survey. thanks are also due to the emergency relief coordinators, workers and volunteers at Mission House, dixon House, Anglicare Victoria Yarra ranges and Anglicare Victoria Wangaratta.

About the Authors
dr Sarah Wise is the General Manager, Policy, research and innovation at Anglicare Victoria. Andrew Yule is the Communications Manager at Anglicare Victoria. Gabrielle degenhardt is a Community relations officer at Anglicare Victoria. At the time of writing, Sani dowa was the Marketing Appeal Coordinator at Anglicare Victoria.


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