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What is an 'Essential' Product or Service?


I had this discussion in another thread but I thought it was valuable to bust a few misconceptions about what products and services should be considered ‘Essential’ in Australia (and therefore regulated as such). I volunteered at a low cost op shop and food bank for about a year, and here’s the big things people needed to have:

Access to Cash at a Reasonable Cost/Convenience
Both banks and the government are slowly moving away from cash, closing ATMs and branches and withdrawing post office services. These are still essential for many people. The op shop I volunteered at sold things as cheap as possible, and therefore didn’t have the facilities or money for card services. Additionally many market places which sell fresh produce below supermarket prices only accept cash. We’re not ready to go cashless yet.

Internet, and a Device to Access It
The vast majority of services rely on the internet these days, including government services. Here are a few:

  • Employment services and job searching
  • Communication, particularly emails and social media. Accessing almost anything requires email these days, and many people no longer use phone or print services to communicate. Some services even ditch email in favour of social media, not to mention it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to be forcibly cut out of communication with their friends/family
  • Government Services including Centrelink, pensions and medical services
  • Accessing finances such as bank accounts when ATMs aren’t always easy to reach. Especially regarding budgeting and seeing when debits have occurred.
  • Accessing basic news such as weather forecasts and safety alerts (especially for rural areas prone to bushfires or extreme weather)
  • Finding accommodation if you’ve just been made homeless, especially since I’ve seen cases of this happening literally within the space of a few days
    This is especially a challenge for people who don’t live in big cities or have accessibility/mobility issues which make it hard/impossible to get around

Transport and Associated Services
Few people would deny a car can be essential, but we rarely apply the same scrutiny to other automotive services. Once again this disproportionately affects people in rural areas where it may be 100km between petrol stations, and even more between mechanics. This creates effective monopolies on an essential service, and needs to be addressed as such.

If anyone has any more suggestions or questions please let me know your thoughts. In 2019 I think we need to really look at expanding our definition of an essential and putting them under scrutiny as such.


I wonder if it needs to be contracted, not expanded :wink: one day ‘selfie stick’ will make the list otherwise …


It might be suitable to stretch the thinking to capture needs in other areas. Circumstance challenges many conventional expectations of our society.

When the overall national distribution of wealth and income is considered.
20% of Australians earn an average of just $23,712 pa or have an average of only $36,500 in total wealth (approx 1% of national wealth).

I wonder how you can relate outcomes or needs to:

  • Access to further education, training and experience building employment without upfront cost?
  • Universal access to family childcare support for working parents at an affordable cost?
  • Access to accomodation on fair and reasonable terms and conditions?

Many enterprises through to small business complain about the lack of suitably skilled and experienced to fill vacancies. One wisdom is that individuals should be funding their own training. In that instance it would appear essential that there is access to the funds needed to pay for the training, and further that the right training is available and accessible in suitable locations. A final conundrum for lifting untrained and poorly skilled into better outcomes, is ensuring the jobs are there to support the individuals when they have completed training!

Accomodation needs are a major issue given enterprise and government generally expects us to follow or move to where the work is. Neither are inclined to follow where the labour resources are, unless there is a cash or political incentive. Transport can only serve as a limited solution, given time, distance and cost.


I agree with your sentiments Mark. I wouldn’t 100% say higher education is 100% essential but I certainly agree we need to have a look at how affordable it is. From my experience volunteering in the area I arrived at the above list as a starting point, as those areas are frequently ignored or considered a luxury by people.


That skirted having a bank account as required to receive money from an increasing number of sources, including governments.

Those without much income are still usually charged $5 pcm account keeping, and those without an address have other problems ‘meeting with’ financial institutions; just getting ID can be costly and difficult when you have little to nothing in your pocket when starting out and have no family support by choice or happenstance. How many have had the experience of walking into a bank branch to open an account when their place of abode was the city park?


That is a very good point. I guess I’m spoiled as I’ve had a fee free transaction account set up by my parents since I was a kid


I would say accommodation and food are both basic human rights, and over recent years I have become increasingly disturbed at the growth in homelessness in this ‘lucky’ country. Governments have failed to raise the unemployment benefit for decades, and are outsourcing care of the destitute - including the job search - to charities.

We seem to be more of a stingy, mean country than a lucky one when it comes to those less fortunate.


I didn’t highlight those in my original post because I presumed that was already agreed here in Australia, but looking at the state of things these days maybe I should :flushed:


Perhaps implied rights, given there is no ‘Bill of Rights’ or constitutional commitment to ensure food and shelter. Services for shortfalls in these needs are provided mostly due to a social contract which is why the heavy lifting is left to community based organisations to provide support. These services and providers would appear essential. :wink:

Unemployment benefits might more correctly recognise a failure by government to ensure full employment or opportunities to the nation. Whether the benefit is an essential service or it is the mechanism (government) that should be providing full employment is the essential service might be the alternate discussion point. Well being is often suggested to arise from being valued and being given the opportunity to contribute. It’s a difficult discussion when there are some who choose not to. :thinking:


Unemployment is to some extent a side effect of deliberate government policy as implemented by the central bank. Full employment causes inflation, as employees are able to demand better wages and those costs are passed to the consumer. Inflation must always be kept in check, because high inflation has an adverse impact on those seeking to borrow (the government will generally refer to home owners in public statements, but in fact most businesses survive using debt and large businesses leverage debt very deliberately - for instance when building a new factory/warehouse/shopfront).

Given that government policies assist in creating unemployment, I would argue that governments have a clear obligation to alleviate the situation those who are unemployed face - whether by treating them with basic human dignity or by making sure they have sufficient resources to care for themselves and those in their care.

As for those who “won’t work” - as my mother puts it - there will always be a small proportion of the population that does not wish to or see a need to work. We need to suck it up, because punishing the many because of the actions of a few (who cannot easily be identified and whose issues cannot be addressed at a government policy level) is simply evil or at the most gentle analysis misguided. Treating the unemployed as human will not see a dramatic increase in people who refuse to work, but will improve society more broadly and will also benefit businesses as the unemployed are able to become consumers to a greater extent than living on packets of noodles and cereal.

At the moment we send a message to the unemployed that they are almost criminal by nature. Tell someone that they’re the lowest of the low, and they’ll adapt their behaviours to suit that label. We absolutely need to find value in our unemployed, as benefits again will redound to us all. And it’s part of society’s obligation to all of its members.


To your list of:
Ready cash-
An Internet device to keep informed and to stay in touch-
Solutions for transport-

I would add:
Free Hospital, Dental, and Medical care
for those on low income-
Affordable Public Housing-
Free courses to learn or to upgrade a skill
which would mean better employment opportunities.

Although we cannot expect food and
shelter to be provided by the Government,
it has a duty to create conditions in which these “Essentials” are able to be achieved
by the majority, and then as a society we can look after those who cannot look after themselves for whatever reason.


One product that isn’t: Essential Oils… they should be removed from the list and renamed Non-essential oils! :wink:


… but @gordon, “the more you smell like an overpowering flower, the more spiritual you are” !!

Would you like to hear about a wealth building opportunity?? :rofl:


Actually one thing I forgot to mention as well is hygiene. You can’t get a job if you aren’t washed, and this is a problem for a lot of homeless people. Currently charities are solely responsible for this, but maybe it’s something that should be looked at further.


Insightful. I have concerns about the over-sterilisation we seem to have these days but that seems to me not what you are referring to - simple basic hygiene, has social and employment benefits for sure, but in addition to health and wellbeing.

Good call.