Justice, Opportunity and Shared Wealth for all South Australians

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Connection crisis for struggling households

- Telecommunications unaffordable for waged poor -

Despite holding down jobs, many families are struggling with the affordability of telecommunications services, according to a report launched today by the South Australian Council of Social Services (SACOSS).
The Connectivity Costs II report, funded by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), and written in conjunction with the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TASCOSS) and the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), investigates how around 250,000 Australian households – whose main source of income is wages and salaries – are living below the poverty line and struggling to keep up with necessary telco bills.

“Many Australian households – known as ‘waged poor’ – are not only struggling to pay their telco and other bills, but they are also facing digital exclusion due to the cost of products and services,” said Ross Womersley, SACOSS CEO. “Importantly, this is a group of people who we often simply overlook because we assume that since they have employment, they are going ok. However, our study shows that as well as struggling to pay their bills they can also be faced with additional expenses, if they are required to use their personal phone and internet services for their work.”

The Connectivity Costs II project sought to examine telecommunications usage and affordability issues by conducting a national survey of 500 waged poor households and qualitative interviews in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. The biggest usage issues were around work and school.

“The survey showed that 70% of respondents who were employed used their personal telecommunications devices and services for work. For some, this was to check rosters and shifts, for others it was to contact customers, navigate to different sites or troubleshoot urgent issues on behalf of their employer.”

“Worryingly, some respondents reported that their personal phone or internet service was a primary tool of their trade,” Mr Womersley continued. “In these instances, this seemed to be a core part of their employers’ business model – at a personal expense to employees.”

“How can we ever expect people to make ends meet when they can’t afford the expenses that their job unfairly expects?”

“Not only is digital connection imperative for work, but many parents told us that they were concerned about their children being excluded because of a lack of access to a digital device and internet connection. This was particularly an issue for education access during COVID-19.”

“While public programs like the ACT government’s provision of Chromebooks are important, there were holes in that program and similar programs did not exist elsewhere,” explained Mr Womersley. ” This issue of home internet connections was particularly important during school shutdowns – and may be again.”

The report highlighted that telecommunications bills were rated as a major household expenditure by the majority of waged poor households, alongside food/groceries, energy, housing, and transport. Half of the households with smart phones and 46% with NBN or other home broadband, reported having trouble paying for the ongoing costs of those services.

“These forms of digital technology are not luxuries – they are a core part of life, work and education in Australia. We must ensure that every Australian is digitally included.”

ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said that there is an urgent need to address the affordability of telecommunications services for struggling households.

“The Connectivity Costs II report is the latest of many indicators which show the stress that many families face to keep connected to these modern essential services. More than ever, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that to work, learn and access government and healthcare, we need reliable, affordable access to telecommunications services.”

The report contains 10 recommendations including recommendations for telecommunications regulators, companies and community groups supporting particularly waged poor consumers, state and local governments to improve accessibility of services and devices, stipulations to employers regarding personal phone use and more. While not making specific recommendations on issues outside of direct telecommunications policy, this report also notes the importance to telecommunications affordability for access to an adequate income, and therefore the need to address issues in relation to:

  • Wage stagnation and underemployment;
  • Inadequate income support payments; and
  • The interaction between income support payments and paid work. 

To read the full report, go here.
For further information/comment, contact:
Ross Womersley, SACOSS Executive Director, 0418 805 426
Caryn Rogers, SACOSS Communications Officer (Projects), 0420 750 344 caryn@sacoss.org.au 
Melyssa Troy, ACCAN Media and Communications Officer, 0409 966 931 media@accan.org.au

Published Date: 
Thursday, 13 August 2020