Targeted Assistance

When your washing machine breaks down it’s annoying. It doesn’t take long for the laundry to mount up – my kids certainly generate a huge amount of washing.

Then there’s the stress of having to find a new one and – even for those Canberrans who are doing relatively well – it can be a financial stretch to pay for it. Finding the money is particularly tough for some groups in our city.

On average the ACT has the highest standard of living in Australia and the lowest levels of disadvantage in the country. We have average household incomes about 20 percent higher than the national average, but there are still people who are doing it tough.

This week I was given a very important document. Called the Targeted Assistance Strategy, it’s an expert summary of ways to help people who are doing it tough, but aren’t the very lowest earners in our society. It’s about helping people in that group that sits above the lowest earning 20 percent. These are people who don’t automatically qualify for assistance, but who, due to a sudden change in their circumstances – an unexpected major expense, like a broken washing machine, or a health issue or job loss – will need it.

Despite earning more than our lowest earners, the group we are targeting are more at risk when it comes to price shocks and more likely to experience financial stress, but less likely to seek assistance. Almost a third of these households have expenditures greater than their income.

To put this into context we’re talking about people who couldn’t raise $2,000 in an emergency.

Parents who can’t afford to get their broken washing machine replaced or repaired and have a growing pile of baby clothes to wash. Apprentices who find they can’t get to work. Retirees who need some unexpected dental work. These people are our neighbours and friends who might suddenly find themselves doing it tough. The new strategy suggests low or no interest loans should be available to tide them over. The ACT Government has already approached the banks to ask for their support with this.

I asked an expert panel led by the Reverend Gordon Ramsay to investigate and draft this strategy following a successful community roundtable last year In the lead up to the ACT budget I wanted to make sure we have the most up to date and comprehensive understanding of where need is in our community to ensure we get the balance right in targeting our assistance where it is needed most

The panel has made 34 recommendations to assist low income earners in areas such as financial management, health (including dental), housing, concessions, utilities, transport, education and training, and information sharing.

I have already drawn insights from the Strategy, and the ACT Government will now closely examine the Report’s recommendations using it as a guiding document through the current deliberations that the Government is going through in developing the 2012-13 Budget.

Canberra is a healthy, wealthy and caring community, and as such, we cannot and should not ignore people in our community who need assistance.

To use the words often used in the strategy, we need to collectively build the financial health and wellbeing of the Canberra community, in a targeted way to make a genuine and long-term difference.

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