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New survey reveals heartbreaking reality of life on the breadline

24 May 2017

Salvation Army officer hands over an emergency relief hamper

Referring to Australia as the ‘Lucky Country’ is an ideal of the past, says The Salvation Army, in response to a dramatic new survey showing Aussie children are skipping meals and are unable to afford medication when sick.

A new survey of 1380 Salvation Army clients across the nation paints a very bleak picture of what life is like for a huge number of struggling Australians.

The Salvation Army's national Economic Social Impact Survey (ESIS) reveals a staggering 69% say getting enough food to eat is a daily challenge, revealing the heartbreaking reality that Australian children are going hungry.

The Salvation Army's Leigh Cleave, Communications and Fundraising Director, says despite Australia being a wealthy country, the demand on Salvo services is greater than ever.

"As a country, we have never been richer. Across the board, our standard of living continues to improve in almost every category. But these gains and opportunities have not been distributed fairly, with millions of Australians living on the margins.

"We like to think of Australia as the land of the 'fair go', but unless people are willing to go the extra mile to help those in need, this idea will become a relic of the past."

The Salvation Army's ESIS 2017 shows 66% of respondents are living in extreme housing stress and use more than half their income on accommodation expenses. As house prices continue to climb in Australia, The Salvation Army is seeing the flow-on effect – rent increases that are pushing low-income families into homelessness. "Our people can't even afford to pay rent, let alone consider the 'great Australian dream' of home ownership," says Mrs Cleave.

The survey reveals single parents with children are the worst affected when it comes to the cost of living – surviving off just $14.35 per day. 36% of all households say they can't afford any kind of medical treatment and 34% are unable to afford the medicines they need from a doctor. Yearly dental check-ups are also off the table.

A staggering two in five clients cannot afford fresh fruit and vegetables every day (39%) and nearly one in four cannot afford three meals a day for their children (23%).

"Children are going to school hungry," says Mrs Cleave. "Parents cannot provide nutritious food for their growing bodies and minds. This level of poverty doesn‟t just have an impact now, it will impact future generations because, through no fault of their own, these children aren‟t being given the opportunity to reach their full potential. It‟s absolutely heartbreaking."

Other statistics include:

When respondents run out of money:

  • 56% cut down on basic necessities.
  • 54% borrow money from family/friends.
  • 49% are unable to pay or delay paying bills.
  • 45% go without meals and 31% sell/pawn their belongings.

For households:

  • Approximately, 1 in 5 households with children cannot afford medical treatment or medicines; half cannot afford up-to-date school items and 56% do not have the money to participate in school activities.
  • Almost 1 in 3 households do not have either a computer or tablet, such as an iPad (31%).

Mrs Cleave said, "What we have to remember is that these aren't statistics. Every single number in this survey represents a real person, real families. Too many Australians are under enormous financial pressure and are having to make daily decisions about which basic necessity they go without.

"Should I pay the rent or buy food for my family?‟ That's not a choice any Australian should be faced with, but our clients wrestle with it all the time."

The Salvation Army is calling on Australians to give generously to this year's Red Shield Appeal in order to raise the vital funds needed to give hope where it‟s needed most.

In a typical week, The Salvation Army provides 100,000 meals, 2000 beds for people experiencing homelessness, up to 8000 grocery vouchers, and refuge for 500 people fleeing abuse.

"Our services on the front line are under huge pressure," says Mrs Cleave "The need for funds is absolutely desperate. For those Aussies that can afford to give, we‟re asking you to be generous this year and help give hope where it‟s needed most."

The Salvation Army's nationwide Red Shield Appeal Doorknock is being held on Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 May, 2017. To volunteer for the Doorknock weekend, please call 13 SALVOS (13 72 58) or register online at

You can donate to the Red Shield Appeal Doorknock by calling 13 SALVOS (13 72 58), online at, in person at any Westpac branch or by posting your cheque to PO Box 9888 in your capital city. 

Download the full ESIS Report (5MB)

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Hope where it's needed most