Australian politicians must stop and listen to the voices of real people suffering under horror power price rises, Victoria’s peak social advocacy body has warned.
“The national debate about power prices is getting bogged down by numbers,” said Victorian Council of Social Service CEO Emma King.
“Numbers are important. But behind every number is a person suffering while they struggle to pay their power bill. They must not be forgotten.”
“Power companies also need to lift their game and offer better deals.”
As power company barons meet with politicians in Canberra, VCOSS is releasing Power Struggles: Everyday battles to stay connected, a new report exposing the daily struggles and sacrifices Australians on low-incomes are making to stay connected to power.
VCOSS commissioned the RMIT Centre for Urban Research to conduct 10 face-to-face interviews with Australians in ‘energy poverty’. These de-identified personal accounts include:
- RACHEL, who showers at a local charity because she can’t afford a gas connection
- TESS, who relies on food vouchers to save money for her utility bills
- DON, who doesn’t use heating and goes to bed early if it’s cold
- NOLA, whose family never uses heating or cooling because it’s too expensive, and
- LANFEN, who doesn’t have the English skills to negotiate a better power deal.
“Every day, millions of Australians are making heartbreaking decisions and sacrifices in order to pay their power bill,” Ms King said.
Power Struggles identifies six common themes in Australia’s energy poverty crisis and contains 13 recommendations for the Federal and Victorian governments. These include:
- INTRODUCING an independent energy broker for residential customers in Victoria
- BOOSTING crisis payments for energy users in temporary hardship
- IMPROVING energy price transparency and comparisons
- RETAINING universal access to emergency relief and financial counselling services
- MANDATING minimum standards for rental properties, and
- FORCING energy retailers to help people at risk of payment difficulty.
“As politicians bicker over who’s to blame for high power prices, Australians on low-incomes are suffering,” Ms King said.
“They’re going to bed to keep warm, skipping meals and raking up huge credit cards debts. Something has to change.”
“The good news is the challenges posed by power prices are not insurmountable. Working together, governments, power companies and the community sector can ease the burden on people who are battling to stay connected.”
“I urge all politicians to read this report, actually listen to people’s stories of hardship and sacrifice and to act.”