New research has revealed that Australia’s frontline workers, including aged care workers, are being priced out of housing in their local communities as rising rent and cost of living pressures push them to the financial brink.
Launched in 2018 to address Australia’s housing crisis, Priced Out: An Index of Affordable Rentals for Australia’s Essential Workers looks at rental affordability for 15 essential worker groups across key industries such as aged care, teaching, construction and health care.
Unfortunately, the 2023 edition of Priced Out paints a dark picture revealing just how bad things are for frontline workers, especially aged care workers in metropolitan areas.
“These Australians are on the frontline of Australia’s housing crisis,” report author and Deputy Director of Anglicare Australia, Maiy Azize, explained.
“With soaring costs and vacancy rates at record lows, many have turned to desperate measures to keep up with rents. Others are forced to live for years and even decades in share homes, or find themselves couch-surfing with friends and family because they can’t find a home.
“Some employers have resorted to providing housing for their workers because there is no other way they could afford to live in their own communities.
“They have simply been priced out, leaving Australia with major workforce shortages in some of our most critical industries.”
According to industry experts, individuals or households that are putting more than 30% of their income into rent or mortgage repayments are likely experiencing some level of financial strain.
By those standards, it’s not good news for aged care workers as Priced Out revealed the average aged care worker spends 65% of their income on rent each week; that’s based on a weekly gross income of $861 and a weekly unit rent of $489 as per March 2023 averages.
For nurses, it’s slightly better as 60% of their income goes toward rent, while it’s 54% for an ambulance officer.
Neither of those figures are positive, however, highlighting the immense pressure placed on frontline workers just to make ends meet.
“These results show that rents are severely unaffordable for essential workers, with unit rents leaving every occupation we studied in deep rental stress,” Ms Azize said.
“The results are so critical that for several occupations, a person could be earning double the award wage and still be in rental stress.
“These results become even more grim when looking at the average across capital cities, where rents are higher and rental stress is even more severe.”
In capital cities, the average weekly unit rent is $572, almost $100 higher than the national average. As a result, 77% of the average aged care worker’s income is dedicated to rent, 71% for a nurse and 63% for an ambulance officer.
Couples in dual-income households are likely to be better off than single households, however, the report stated that many key workers will still likely be left with between $20-$30 per day after rent – money needed to cover transport, groceries, utilities, etc.
St Vincent’s Care Services Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Lincoln Hopper, said his workforce is heavily impacted by housing affordability as there aren’t enough local staff to fill roles in areas such as the Sunshine Coast.
“We currently have to fill up to 242 shifts a fortnight with temporary and other staff – which equates to about 40 people – because of a lack of available locals to fill permanent roles and plug the gaps,” said Mr Hopper.
“Housing affordability is undoubtedly a major factor in our struggle to fill these positions. People can’t work in the region if they can’t afford a place to live.
“A lot of people don’t understand the multiplying effect the housing crisis has. This crisis not only hurts individuals – who can’t find a place to live – but it also hurts the people who need their support; it hurts the local towns and communities that miss out on their contribution.”
That increased cost of living has not helped, either, with the average weekly rent increasing by $117 since 2020.
For an aged care worker, that $117 equals six extra hours of work per week, or 39 extra days at work during the year. Nurses and ambulance officers would have needed five more hours per week to balance out the increase, the equivalent of 36 and 32 days per year, respectively.
Benetas CEO, Sandra Hills OAM, said they’ve resorted to providing independent living units for Bendigo staff so there is at least some form of temporary housing for employees that are struggling or have long commutes.
“Many of our carers want to work part-time due to other commitments such as caring for family members or raising children,” Ms Hills said.
“But with the challenges of rental affordability, particularly in regional areas, we are struggling to attract and keep really good carers in our aged care homes.
“In the meantime, we will be doing all we can – including re-purposing our independent living units – to make it possible for our incredible carers to do their job for the sake of our residents and their loved ones.”
Other providers such as the Raleigh-Urunga Masonic Village have also brought in tiny homes and converted shipping containers to give nurses local housing options.
The report has called for major changes to rental and housing affordability, claiming that employers should not be responsible for providing accommodation for their staff.
Instead, it called for the Government to step in and create more housing, including social housing, for people on a low income, while also reducing the capital gains tax discount to reduce the benefits for investors and multi-property owners.
“Tackling this crisis will take time, and a willingness to put the interests of Australians who need a home ahead of the interests of investors,” Ms Azize said.
“It will also require a concerted and enduring commitment from Government. This work must begin immediately.”