People from culturally diverse backgrounds in Australia sought more loans during the COVID-19 pandemic

Paw Eh and her family had to draw money from their superannuation after her husband lost his job during the COVID-19 lockdown. Source: SBS News

A new study has shed light on the financial hardship people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in Australia have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paw Eh arrived in Australia 14 years ago, leaving Myanmar as a refugee.

When her husband lost his job during the COVID-19 lockdown, she did not know how they would make ends meet.

"I have a little baby, so I cannot work," she told SBS News.

"So, we didn't have enough money to pay the rent." 

Paw Eh and her family.
Paw Eh and her family.
SBS News

She said the family was able to access JobKeeper payments, but they still had to dip into their savings.

"My husband took his super out - it was $10,000," she said.

Her family is not alone in its financial struggles.

The Consumer Policy Research Centre surveyed more than two thousand people across Australia as they exited lockdown in November and December.

The Centre's report released this week found people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

CALD consumers accessed twice as many personal loans and four times as many high-cost payday loans. 

They also were twice as likely to access their superannuation early and sought emergency assistance at rates four times higher than the rest of the population. 

"What's really concerning to us is that this group is accessing higher risk, high-cost credit products at much greater rates than the rest of the population," Consumer Policy Research Centre chief executive Lauren Solomon said.

"That's things like payday loans, consumer leases and buy now-pay later." 

In November alone, 22 per cent of CALD tenants missed a payment, compared with six per cent of the broader population. 

The result has been high levels of financial stress, with 73 per cent of CALD consumers still concerned about their financial wellbeing, compared with 56 per cent of their population. 

The Migration Council of Australia's chief executive Carla Wilshire said these problems have been exacerbated by the fact many non-English speakers have missed out on information regarding payment plans and other financial supports.

"Having English as a second language just creates an additional barrier to being able to access adequate financial advice," she said.

"One of the outcomes from COVID is that more consideration needs to be given to support mechanisms for migrants and refugees when they first arrive." 

International students and people on working holiday visas were also had higher levels of financial hardship during the pandemic, with their visa status putting government support payments out of reach.

They were also more likely to rely on casual work, leading to higher levels of income instability.

Researchers are calling for financial information to be available in a variety of languages.

"If we're going to recover together from this crisis, our customer service needs to be inclusive and that means it needs to be accessible to the broader population because that's what's going to make our community and our society stronger," Ms Solomon said.

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