THE Loddon Mallee has one of rural Victoria’s lowest median family incomes.
The latest The State of Victoria’s Children report shows family income is highest in Barwon South Western region and lowest in Hume, Loddon Mallee and Gippsland. The highest percentage of children with families reporting financial hardship is found in Loddon Mallee and Gippsland.
Bendigo Community Health Services CEO Kim Sykes said it had become apparent recently that groups of disadvantage were changing within the greater Bendigo community.
“If we’re talking about disadvantaged populations people think we’re talking about generations of poverty, or unemployment, but what we’re seeing now is those groups aren’t static,” she said.
“There are also people who are kind of on the fringe, they are just struggling, they’re just managing to hold it together.
“And then when you unpack that, you think, ‘at what cost?’
“So the cost might be that there’s fewer meals – for example, a young person doing an apprenticeship.
“Yes, he is in work and he’s working towards a future, but the kind of accommodation they can afford is limited and they’re often finding money just doesn’t go far enough for food and much less, entertainment.”
Bendigo Community Health Services, with generous support from Cafe De Mill and Beck Legal, tries to bridge the gap by running the Soup Kitchen on Thursday afternoons.
The initiative is designed to help people in need and provides between 15 and 20 people with a hearty meal each week.
Ms Sykes said addressing financial hardship was about not only helping people in need, but also working to address underlying issues.
“Yes, if you earn less you often have less choice and less capacity to purchase things, but it’s also about where you’re living and what’s causing that,” she said.
“Some of it is about people with lifestyles that don’t pay much, but it’s equally possible that what we’re seeing is a migration out of Melbourne... As house prices there become high, as people struggle to pay those rents or mortgages, if jobs are lost, then people start looking for other areas that are more affordable and this is a good area in which to live.
“But often people don’t think about the other things that come with it – that often the cheapest places, the cheapest housing, is often in areas where there is no infrastructure.
“So transport is limited, sports and recreational facilities might be limited, access to healthcare, are there dental services?
“That other infrastructure that impacts on health and well-being often isn’t in place in the areas of the lowest-cost housing, which is often where the people who have the lowest income migrate to.
“And it’s even harder if there’s been rapid migration because the services might be really stretched.”