Welfare agencies report December rise in help calls

RISING energy and rent bills, plus job losses, have prompted a surge in demand for welfare assistance from Warrnambool and district agencies, making December one of the busiest months on record.

Hundreds of clients including families, teenagers and the elderly have sought relief through food vouchers, toys and other gifts to bring some Christmas cheer. Many have been struggling with rising debt levels and commitments on short-term loans.

Anglicare community dev­el­opment co-ordinator Louise Serra said more than 200 people received assistance through the agency in Warrnambool — about double the normal monthly figure.

Similar increases were reported by the St Vincent de Paul Society and Salvation Army. 

“Needs have been more intense with people struggling to pay their electricity, gas and phone bills combined with the pressures of Christmas,” Ms Serra said.

“Then in January there will be the burdens of back-to-school requirements and credit card bill payments.

“We have been providing regular clients with supermarket vouchers and Christmas gifts donated by the community. A lot of people who care for others forget about their own needs and we encourage them to take a gift for themselves.”

Salvation Army admin­istration manager Chris Philpot said demand for help seemed higher this month than for the same time last year.

“Certainly it was in the hundreds,” he said.

“Lost employment, higher utility costs, rent and general cost-of-living pressures are the main reasons. Response from the community with donations has been fantastic considering difficulties with the Banksia collapse and other big issues.”

A welfare volunteer with St Vinnie’s said there were hundreds of calls for help this month from across the city and district.

“It’s well up on normal,” a spokesman said.

“Mostly we provide food relief, but there are many requests for accommodation.

“Older people especially are feeling the effects of higher energy bills. It’s also very disconcerting that so many people are being caught in signing for short-term loans and then being hit with penalty charges because they can’t meet the payments.”

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