The REAL cost of living

The cost of items such as groceries have increased in recent months as inflation rises. File photo.

Sunny Grace weighs in on the hot potato election topic of the cost of living.

For the past few weeks of this election campaign, we’ve heard endlessly about the rising cost of living and who can manage this problem best once elected. However, it’s not just an issue in Australia – it is global, with politicians blaming it on floods, war and pandemics. 

While these are contributing factors, we need to realise it is largely the effect of the uneven distribution of wealth, the inherent competitive nature of capitalism and the so-called free market. According to the World Inequality Report 2022: ‘Global wealth inequalities are even more pronounced than income inequalities. The poorest half of the global population barely owns any wealth at all, possessing just 2% of the total. In contrast, the richest 10% of the global population own 76% of all wealth.’ 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the cost of living as ‘the amount of money that a person needs to live’. That’s relative if you ask me. How much money I need to live is relative to how much my mother needs to live or how much Elon Musk needs to live. Elon Musk has private jets to maintain and wants to buy Twitter; my mum wants to be able to pay her rent and eat well; I want to pay my bills, eat well, go out to see films and plays, and not ask my mother for money. I also want my sons to have enough money to live on and not have to ask me. 

My mum lives on the pension. She is frugal and has been since I was little. Growing up in a family of six on my grandfather’s tradesman income, there wasn’t any surplus. Clothes were handmade, school was public and food was stretched to feed everyone. Without owning her own property, mum’s rent to income proportion is high and rising. By growing her own vegetables and making most of her own food mum can live well in terms of ‘being well’. Her life is contained to her tight budget, but her health is better than most people her age due to her understanding of eating well to live well and be well. 

What if we redefined living as being well? What then is the cost of being well? The cost of my being well was to give up a high paying job for a career I was too afraid to pursue in case I didn’t earn enough money. While the higher income gave me the security and money I didn’t have growing up, I spent twenty years in a job I wasn’t suited to do. I was good at the job, but it came with a cost. Making that living cost my mental and physical health. Diagnosed with Graves’ disease, anxiety and depression, I realised it wasn’t sustainable anymore. I gave up that job to follow my true life purpose as a writer and director. Choosing a career in the arts at this stage of my life can be viewed as madness and yet I am finally starting to feel better. 

However, my income has gone down and we sometimes have rental stress. Putting petrol in the car and having money for food can be a struggle. The good news is despite these stressors, I no longer have Graves’ disease and I am working on my mental health. I spend more time looking after myself and being in nature. 

Speaking of which, if we don’t look after the environment, we and the planet will all die anyway. That is the true cost of the global inequality. The true cost of living beyond our resources. Why is this not factored into the cost of living? Not just the economic requirements to live well but also oxygen and water? 

According to the World Inequality Report 2022: ‘Inequality is a political choice, not a fatalityWe stress on the outset that addressing the challenges of the 21st century seems hardly feasible without large redistribution of income and wealth inequalities.’

Imagine if politicians came together to make this happen. To end suffering and war. To give all global citizens access to what they need to live well. To care for our Mother Earth again so we can all live well. It is possible. This requires a power and mindset shakeup – but the cost of not trying is the highest of all. The cost is life itself. 

Sunny Grace is a writer, producer and director who divides her time between the NSW Northern Rivers and Sydney. Her website is located at sunnygrace.com.au.

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