WELL-educated and seemingly prosperous people are becoming part of “a new stream of despair” encountered by Kenmore’s St Vincent de Paul Society volunteers.
One man was recruited from overseas as a mining engineer with 28 years’ experience in coal mining and arrived two years ago in Australia with a wife and a child.
Having lost his job due to the mining downturn, the engineer is struggling to meet his mortgage repayments and is likely to lose his house.
Another is a 60-year-old woman recently made redundant and owing $80,000 on her mortgage.
Her employment prospects look grim in Brisbane’s employment climate.
She is relying on food and other support from her local St Vincent de Paul Society as she attempts to meet her house payments.
Long-time Vinnies member Jim Devereaux and other conference members say these stories are “but the tip of the iceberg” of a growing number of a different class of people impacted by the economic climate.
“These are responsible people who have planned their careers and could have reasonably expected to be safe,” Mr Devereaux said.
“The present economic environment is a great worry, because we are meeting cases where the future has suddenly come to a dead end.
“These people’s situations are typical of what we’re hearing from other branches.”
Mr Devereaux’ observations were echoed by the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council’s report to mark Anti-Poverty Week.
It was titled Two Australias: a report on poverty in the land of plenty.
The national council’s chief executive Dr John Falzon said “our members across the nation are continuing to see the emergence of two Australias”.
“One is characterised by prosperity and high-end consumption, the other by a daily struggle to be able to afford the necessities of life,” he said.
“It is popular in the current political environment to blame people for their poverty, but the truth told by the people on the margins speaks louder than the lies told about them.
“An adequate income is crucial, which is why, despite the constant ideological resistance, we continue to advocate for a much-needed $50-a-week increase to the Newstart payment.
“But income support is not enough.
“We need to look at what locks people out of the labour market.”
Mr Devereaux said in the midst of this growing wave of hardship the generosity of Catholic families to the less fortunate had been encouraging.
“Recently we put a snippet in the parish bulletin of a lady fleeing Sydney to Brisbane because of a husband’s marital abuse and child pornography issues.
“A parishioner gave us $1500 as a helping hand.
“The parishes are supporting SVdP conferences so we can pay the petrol and fares, internet and phone for those desperately seeking work.
“We could use a bit more prayer support, because after listening to people in these situations, you just want to come home and weep.”