Q&A: Down to the WIRE
Image via wire.org.au
COVID-19 has changed the way many Australians live. Many are experiencing financial hardship and do not have enough money for food and basic necessities.
More than 2.6 million Australians have already accessed their superannuation under the COVID-19 early release scheme, and more than 500 have wiped out their super.
On average, women have half the superannuation of men, and withdrawing their superannuation early may result in poorer financial wellbeing in retirement.
ANZ community partner WIRE is Victoria’s only free generalist support service for women, non-binary and gender diverse people, providing support, information and referral on any issue by phone, email and web chat.
Nationally, WIRE runs training and innovative programs on family violence, financial abuse and financial capability for community, professionals and organisations.
WIRE CEO Julie Kun sat down for a socially distanced chat with ANZ’s Senior Manager Financial Inclusion and Community Janet Liu to discuss the challenges facing Victorians who are experiencing financial hardship and family violence during lockdown, as well as how they can access help.
They began by discussing some of the changes WIRE is seeing in the ways people are asking for help during the pandemic.
CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses topics and language that may be sensitive to some readers. If you or anyone you know has or is experiencing violence or needs help and support, please visit www.wire.org.au or www.lifeline.org.au. Men can call the men’s referral service on 1300766491.If your life or the life of others are in danger please call 000.
Janet Liu (JL): With COVID-19 changing the lives of so many Australians, what are some of the challenges you’re seeing at WIRE? Has the demand for your services increased?
Julie Kun (JK): We’ve found the volume of calls has remained the same, but we’ve seen an increase in people reaching out through our online support services, with email and web chat enquiries increasing about 30-40 per cent. We see this increase in online enquires as a sign that people need to access support in a range of ways during lockdown, and we’re glad we can provide those avenues for them.
Many of the people reaching out to us via online methods are dealing with family violence and financial hardship. This is reflected in the type of calls people are making to us.
The calls we’re receiving now are more complex, we’re receiving on average around 10 per cent more phone calls relating to family violence, and an increase of 15-20 per cent of callers requiring a safety conversation.
Economic insecurity has led to heightened uncertainty. People are unsure if they’ll be able to manage financially if they leave their partner. Many of the people accessing our services are unsure what services and options are available to them.
We’re also seeing a lot more empathy from community members toward people needing help. Calls from concerned friends, family and non-family violence professionals have doubled from around 5-6 per cent of calls pre-lockdown to 12-14 per cent now.
Some victim-survivors may find it very difficult to find a safe time and place to contact support services when under lockdown with their partner, so it’s good to see many of these people have someone who can reach out on their behalf.
JL: You mentioned increased calls regarding family violence and financial hardship. Are there any other trends you’re seeing?
JK: In addition to increased family violence and hardship we’re seeing an increasing number of enquiries with mental health and wellbeing concerns for self and family members, and lots of people feeling negative about their future.
Some of the people who use our services have also mentioned they’ve been experiencing more racism, especially those who are identified as Asian. Many people who were already experiencing marginalisation prior to COVID-19, like migrants and people with disability, are experiencing increased hardship.
We’ve also noticed the increased resilience of people who are experiencing hardship. People have shown they can adapt and think of innovative solutions. While strength is never in endless supply, victim-survivors of family violence continue to manage their situation and keep themselves and their children as safe as possible under extreme conditions.
JL: How is COVID-19 impacting people’s access to housing?
JK: In Victoria, which is sadly dealing with a lot of Australia’s COVID cases at the moment, people experiencing homelessness have been able to access temporary accommodation for a few weeks or even months, thanks to additional Victorian government funding.
Sadly, this funding is not ongoing. We’re expecting at some point more people will suddenly return to homelessness and this will likely come at a time when people are unable to pay rent or keep up with mortgage repayments.
We’re seeing a lot of our community more fearful of not being able to keep a roof over their head for themselves and their families.
"It is amazing to see the tenacity and strength people have when facing
such anunprecedented event like the current pandemic. It demonstrates to me that people are not themselves vulnerable, they’re made vulnerable by the circumstances they face and the resources that are (or are not) made available to them to manage their situation, such as adequate income support
and a safe home." - WIRE CEO Julie Kun.
JL: Has anything surprised you in the past few months? Have you learnt anything about how WIRE responds under unprecedented circumstances like this pandemic?
JK: While I’m not surprised, I’ve been so inspired to see the power of WIRE’s service delivery method in action during this time. Our model is a strength-based approach, instead of providing advice we provide a space to validate the experiences of the people who use our services, we work with them to identify their strengths and we help them explore their options moving forward.
It is amazing to see the tenacity and strength people have when facing such an unprecedented event like the current pandemic. It demonstrates to me that people are not themselves vulnerable, they’re made vulnerable by the circumstances they face and the resources that are (or are not) made available to them to manage their situation, such as adequate income support and a safe home.
JL: Can you explain why financial literacy and independence for women is important? What can women do to avoid getting into difficult financial situations?
JK: I prefer to use the term financial capability instead of financial literacy. Financial literacy relates to how much you know, but capability is about knowledge, skills and confidence; both the skills to implement your knowledge and confidence to use those skills.
For me, financial capability is also about creating a society which facilitates ongoing wellbeing through the provision of support to those that require it – including access to income, health care and education, and access to financial products such as bank accounts. Without financial capability, the vast majority of people cannot achieve financial wellbeing. Living without financial wellbeing can reduce the options people have around housing, education and maintaining health and wellbeing.
Much of our current system is stacked against women. Female-dominated professions like child care and other caring professions are low paid, which means women have less access to money to manage, and there is also an expectation women will take time off work to care for children and other dependents. Both of these factors impact a woman’s long-term income earning potential, as well as take-home pay and superannuation.
JL: What are some of the ways people can combat this to achieve better financial capability?
JK: Some of the things women can do are:
- Be part of the change and advocate for women to have equality in the workplace and financial decision making within intimate relationships. If you can’t advocate yourself, support those that can.
- Determine what your financial goals are (both short and long term) and gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to implement a financial plan that moves you towards your goals. Some of the things you can do include:
o Attend MoneyMinded training
o Read online articles and resources to build knowledge
o Seek out people who have financial knowledge and ask questions
Finally, I’d just like to let anyone experiencing financial abuse know that it is not your fault. The person causing you harm has most likely worked very hard to ensure your confidence around money is low so they can exert power and control.
You do have options – you can call organisations like WIRE to talk through what is happening. WIRE can refer you to financial counsellors and family violence services. We can also give you pointers on how to talk to banks, utility companies and other financial institutions about the financial abuse you are experiencing, so they can assist.
There is help out there for you.
If you or someone you know needs support you can call WIRE on 1300 134 130, send an email, or talk to a trained WIRE support worker via web chat at www.wire.org.au .
Whether you have a home loan, own a business, or both, ANZ has support options that could help you through these uncertain times. Visit our COVID support hub or contact our financial hardship team on 1800 252 845 Monday-Friday 9.00am to 7.00pm (AEST).
Keep going, keep strong: breaking the cycle of poverty