Barry Leddicoat

38% of NSW households outspend income

STAND in your front yard and look left, look right and then look at your own home.

Odds are that you or one of your immediate neighbours is spending more than you or they earn.

A new Wesley Mission study has shown disturbing levels of financial stress in New South Wales, with 38% of households spending more than their income.

The report found 44% of households in 2014 were under financial stress and unable to pay bills on time, properly maintain their homes or get the medical attention they needed.

It was a 7% increase over four years.

Wesley Mission chief executive officer Dr Keith Garner said it was having dire effects upon the health, safety and wellbeing of families.

"People who are struggling with financial stress often have other hardships such as anxiety, homelessness, addiction or face domestic violence," he said.

"These difficulties can push some people beyond the point where they feel they can cope."

The report told the story of Susan and Craig to illustrate how quickly people were falling on hard times in NSW.

The older married couple went from being "reasonably comfortable" in their 40s to scrimping and saving every penny after illness and economic downturn took their toll.

After Craig died from cancer, Susan had a stroke, diabetes and life-threatening kidney and liver conditions - illnesses she attributed in part to constantly worrying about her finances.

She has since been in touch with a free financial counsellor and the debt collectors have stopped knocking on their door.

"Without her, I would have done it - I would have committed suicide," Susan said.

The stress is still there, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

"Sometimes I think, 'I've got two specialist appointments to pay for - what am I going to eat this week? OK, I'll just be having toast'," she said.

"My health has worsened, but I have got stronger in a lot of things - I can see that there are ways around things now."

Researchers also found four times as many households were unable to stick to a budget, up from 5% in 2010 to 19% in 2014.

The Wesley Mission offers a free counselling service for people dealing with financial distress. For details phone 1800 007 007 or visit http://www.wesleymission.org.au.


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