Matt Johnston and Karen Collier
From: News Limited Network
December 10, 2012

MILLIONS of families are much better off this Christmas with recent interest rate cuts far outweighing skyrocketing utility bills.

A new analysis shows that when savings from rate cuts are put up against increases in electricity and gas prices in the past year, average mortgage holders come out $1390 on top.

The analysis, compiled by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra, shows that variable interest rates have dropped 1.35 percent since October last year.

For average families that have mortgages this saves about $1782 a year, at the same time as they were slugged with $392 in energy bill hikes – one of the major cost of living concerns.

The average Australian mortgage is around $300,000. NATSEM research fellow Ben Phillips said that even with other price pressures added in, “the Australian standard of living has never been better”.

He said the cost of living has not moved much in the past year for most families, while wages have risen by about 3.7 per cent.”People see their electricity and has bills and they are big increases … but there’s all these other things that they don’t notice,” he said.

“Even though pressures from electricity and gas are high there are other items that compensate – particularly imported goods such as clothes, shoes and electronic goods.”

The NATSEM analysis is supported by Lonergan Research’s Cost of Living Survey, which showed most Australians thought their day-to-day expenses had outpaced the official inflation rate of 2 per cent. Chris Lonergan said there was often a difference between “perception and reality” and led to people “tending to save rather than spend money”.

But the NATSEM analysis did show that renters were on average hit by $320 worth of utility bill increases in the past year, while getting no relief from rates.

UnitingCare national director Lin Hatfield Dodds said renters who were unemployed, on low incomes or in unstable casual jobs were suffering extreme hardship.Growing numbers of “working poor” were among those struggling to make ends meet and seeking help from welfare agencies.

“Some Australians are doing pretty well and as a country we did extremely well through the financial crisis, but there are still too many missing out,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.

“In some parts of Australia we have seen a five-fold increase in demand for emergency relief.”

“There is a disproportionate price burden on those on lower incomes because everybody has to pay for electricity, water, transport, education and food.”

Cost of living concerns have continued to weigh on families’ minds in the lead up to Christmas.

Australian National Retail Association chief executive Margy Osmond said stores had been grappling with a radically different and unpredictable consumer since the global financial crisis.

She said despite a string of local interest rate cuts, consumers were influenced by international events, conflicts and economic circumstances beyond their back yard.


What’s up, what’s down in the past year

Mortgage -$1782

Electricity and gas +$392

Average full-time weekly wage +$2340

Petrol +$150

Food costs (inc takeaway and restaurants) – $122
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