All sections of the working class are being hit by the rising costs of food, healthcare, transport, utility bills, education expenses and transport. Whether renting or paying off a housing loan, the biggest financial burden for most working families is housing.
This is especially so for the poorest section: those on pensions, the unemployed, the vast army of part-time and casual workers eking out an existence on the fringes of society. These are the workers in low paid and insecure work who are hanging out until the next payday, juggling bills and skimping on decent food and clothes, doing without heating during winter, stuffing newspaper in their kid’s shoes when the soles wear through.
Living on the edge, the threat of homelessness hangs over them – all it takes is a lost job or cut back hours, sickness, or an accident, the car breaks down, etc. There are no savings to fall back on, and banks and landlords are not known for their compassion.
In outer fringe Melbourne and the inner city high-rise blocks, where the poor working class have sought cheaper rental housing, rental arrears for public housing have increased by 22% in the past financial year, amounting to a record $15.1 million.
Police evictions are running at an average of 7 per day, with 2600 recorded last financial year. Suburbs listed include Broadmeadows, Craigieburn and Sunbury to the north, Werribee, Laverton and Melton to the west, and Cranbourne and Dandenong to the south-east. These are all areas with high unemployment and poor infrastructure and community resources.Home buyers unable to meet their repayments have also lost the roof over their head, with 318 repossession warrants issued last financial year.
Budget cuts and isolation hit the poor
One immediate impact on the poorest section was the callous slashing of the single parent payment by the Gillard Labor government, forcing thousands of families onto the lesser Newstart allowance, virtually taking food off the table.
In addition, the Victorian Coalition government had cut $2.7 million from the Social Housing Advocacy and Support Program, which was set up to assist public housing tenants work through their financial difficulties to avoid eviction.
Emma King, chief executive of the Victorian Council of Social Service also noted that “Affordable housing is not affordable if it is offset by other costs, such as distance from jobs, education, health-care and community services, and with few transport options. This is further evidence of the social problems resulting from decades of poor planning… We are creating two different Melbournes … one where there are opportunities and jobs and one where there is entrenched and growing disadvantage”.
In October, the Victorian government released their Plan Melbourne, designed to guide the city’s growth until the year 2050. (As if the capitalist economic system embraces the concept of such long-term planning!)
Apart from unfunded promises to improve public transport and the very expensive East-West road tunnel, it proposes to chop up Melbourne’s remaining green belts to allow commercial development, accommodation units and tourism activities to take over the best agricultural and recreational land close to the city.
As for the CBD area, it will increasingly be turned over to foreign investors, developers and speculators, if we are to believe Andrew Tongue, Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. According to the Melbourne Age, he announced that the Victorian government could not control the number or type of apartment towers in Melbourne because of a need for foreign capital. Asian investment capital “felt comfortable” with high-rise development and the government could not fight it.Michael Buxton, Professor of Environment and Planning at RMIT University, condemned the ‘plan’.
“The interests of big retailers, road builders and developers are not necessarily ours. That's why we need government. This government has no idea about how to promote affordable housing.
“Melbourne will continue to grow as two city types that entrench unequal access to the best a city can offer. Well-serviced inner and middle-ring areas will become more exclusive, while sprawling new suburbs will condemn many outer residents to the worst standards of infrastructure and facilities.
“Cities fail when powerful private interests are allowed to determine the future, advantaging a few in the short term at the long-term expense of the many. This new plan, regrettably, has set Melbourne on the path to failure.”