Rita Burrows lives with her husband in a three-bedroom house in Sydney’s inner west and the couple pays three-quarters of their combined aged pension on rent.
They are among the many vulnerable private renters highlighted in the latest Productivity Commission report who pay much more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.
Originally from Western Australia, they raised their four adult children in Sydney and Mrs Burrows retired from running a hairdressing salon in Chatswood just over a decade ago while her husband retired five years ago.
“It was all right in the beginning because we had a bit of superannuation but that dwindled away and we were just on the pension and things gradually got worse,” Mrs Burrows said.
“We get $1400 a fortnight and pay $1000 on rent. That leaves $200 a week [or just under $29 a day] to pay for everything else.”
The couple manages to make ends meet with some support from family and the St Vincent de Paul Society, but the stress is beginning to take its toll on Mrs Burrows who said she now suffers from high blood pressure.
About two years ago they first made contact with St Vincent de Paul after receiving an unusually high electricity bill.
“I was a wreck. We’d never been in that situation before and we just felt so helpless,” Mrs Burrows said.
“What do we do, pay the electricity bill and don’t pay the rent?”
The couple prefers to live close to their young grandchildren, but were willing to look into other options and after inquiring about social housing where shocked to discover they would go onto a 10-year waitlist.
“We’ve always helped everybody else, and I was just a mess the day I first went to Vinnies. I think I cried for about three hours.
“It’s horrible to be in that situation, you feel so vulnerable.
“What gets me is that before the election there was a lot of talk about increasing the Newstart allowance but there was no mention of increasing pensions.
“If a pensioner gets a rise they get about three dollars. The cost of living is always going up. What can three dollars do?”