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Consumer report reveals cost of living squeeze

CHOICE says 46% of Australians have cut-back essentials

8 August 2014

CHOICE has released its first national Consumer Pulse Report, revealing an anxious picture of Australia’s households.

The national consumer survey[i] found that in the face of rising bills over the last year, 46 per cent of Australians reported cutting back on essential spending and 62 per cent on non-essentials. More than half of those surveyed put clothing and entertainment (both 57 per cent) at the top of the list of household cuts.

“Almost one-in-three respondents told us they find it difficult to get by on their current income, with one-in-five saying they have scraped through to payday by living off credit or borrowing from friends or family,” says CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland.

“This reveals some striking concerns with cost-of-living, which is perhaps not surprising at a time when inflation is outstripping sluggish wages growth, retail sales are fragile and the political debate remains focused on household expenses,” Mr Kirkland says.[ii]

The CHOICE Consumer Pulse Report shows the squeeze is hardest on low-income households, renters and parents with school-aged children. Electricity tops the list of household expense concerns at 84 per cent, with fuel (81 per cent) and food and groceries (77 per cent) close behind.

The survey was undertaken just before the repeal of the carbon tax, and the high concern over electricity is consistent with national trends over the last three years.

“With such a drawn-out debate over the carbon tax it is not surprising to see electricity at the top of the list, although clearly prices have been driven by a number of factors, including rising infrastructure costs,” Mr Kirkland says.

“We also identified government spending cuts as the main consumer worry, perhaps reflecting the federal political debate, with the future of billions in budget savings, including family payments, still unresolved.”

CHOICE says that in the midst of ongoing concern around housing affordability, renters are doing it particularly tough.

“We found that 45 per cent of renters report difficulty getting by, compared to only 25 per cent of mortgage holders, with the majority indicating they cut back on essentials last year,” Mr Kirkland says.

[i] The survey was designed and analysed by CHOICE with fieldwork by GMI/Lightspeed Research conducted with 1001 consumers aged 18-75 years between 13 and 25 June 2014. Final data has been weighted to ensure it is representative of the Australian population based on the ABS Census 2011. Cost of living questions about people’s concerns with expenses is based on the total population including people who do not have a given expense. We have done this to represent the overall views of Australians.

[ii] For comparison of CPI and wages growth, see Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘6401.0 - Consumer Price Index, Australia, Jun 2014’ and ‘6345.0 - Wage Price Index, Australia, Mar 2014’. For analysis of retail turnover see Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘8501.0 - Retail Trade, Australia, Jun 2014’.

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