Like many Australians, Victorian paediatric nurse Danielle Jaeger is struggling to make ends meet amid a rising cost of living crisis. So much so that there have been times when she’s worn shoes with holes because she couldn’t afford to replace them, skipped meals, or “lived on toast”.
“People are crumbling and the pressure of it all [cost of living] is absolutely significant,” she revealed.
Danielle is among hundreds of consumers who have given evidence to a new Inquiry into Price Gouging and Unfair Pricing Practices, commissioned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), to identify the scale of price gouging practices being used by large businesses such as banks, supermarkets, insurance companies and energy providers, and to understand the impact it is having on the lives of everyday Australians.
At an initial public hearing in Melbourne yesterday, Danielle shared her first-hand experience of the daily struggle to get by with Professor Allan Fels, a former Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), who was appointed to oversee the Inquiry.
The nurse admitted she felt vulnerable about publicly sharing her story but ultimately deemed it too important not to shine a light on the cost of living issues everyday Australians are grappling with.
“I’m a nurse and I never thought I would be where I am today in terms of experiencing the difficulties of financial stress because of the price gouging that’s happening in my life. And I see it with other people in my life and across the whole community,” she said.
“I feel really fortunate because I have a full-time job. I have a roof over my head. I am able to put food in the fridge. But I’m still having to make really difficult decisions, such as do I got to the doctors, or do I pay for some prescriptions, can I attend that specialist appointment? What do I have to comprise every fortnight, every day, to be able to live?”
The Inquiry, which received about 600 submissions, is delving into the root causes of price gouging, identifying sectors most impacted and the mechanisms by which it affects consumers. It is also analysing the connection between dwindling living standards and surging corporate profits, aiming to address the concerning imbalance and, ultimately, recommend practical measures to curb price gouging.
In giving evidence, Danielle said her own parents worked multiple jobs to support five children, scrimping and saving to make ends meet. It only recently dawned on her that she, too, was in a similar boat.
“I feel like I am working to the bone. I feel like I am struggling. There were stages where I was wearing shoes with holes in them because I couldn’t afford to replace them, because it would mean that something else would have to be compromised, or affected, in order to do that.”
Danielle said that these days, she considers simple things like buying a coffee, or going out to dinner with friends, luxuries.
For her, increasing cost of living and price gouging hits hardest when it comes to utility bills such as gas and electricity, food costs, and home insurance, which she says rose by 40% this year.
“There’s so many people suffering who are told because of this price gouging they have to suffer some more,” Danielle said.
“I worry about the vulnerable people that are worse off than me.”
While Danielle already works full-time, she told the Inquiry she is now looking for a second job to counter her financial stress.
“I feel like I have the best job in the world but it’s not enough for me to be able to pay for necessities, to be able to attend an appointment with my psychologist, to be able to pay for my medication, to be able to go to the doctor, to be able to pay all the bills that are coming in.
“I don’t feel like it [cost of living increases] is justified, especially when I’m seeing big corporations that are reaping the benefits, in terms of the profits they are making.”
Tellingly, Danielle told the Inquiry that cost of living increases meant she now needs to scramble to find an extra $8,700, or $168 a week, compared to last year, just to live. It’s a near-impossible task when you consider her wage has only gone up by $102 for the whole year.
“If it’s not price gouging, what is it?” she said.
“It’s not sustainable for anyone. I just don’t know how people can keep going when it’s affecting our livelihoods, it’s affecting our health and wellbeing,” she said.
“People are, if not already broken, at breaking point.”
Professor Fels acknowledged that hearing first-hand accounts like Danielle’s of the human experience with cost of living pressures and price gouging was vitally important as the Inquiry he is leading attempts to recommend practical and effective measures to protect the financial interests of all Australians.
A second public hearing will be held in Sydney on Friday, September 29.