AT LEAST 38% of Tweed householders are living hand-to-mouth, as they endure extreme financial strain.
A special APN investigation found 34,452 families in the Tweed Shire were unable to raise $2000 cash in a week to cover a crisis.
Of the region's 90,114 residents, 28,131 people had relied on government income to survive over the past two years.
New University of Adelaide data shows 14,069 people had cash flow problems in the past 12 months.
St Vincent de Paul Society National Council CEO Dr John Falzon said some residents were taking drastic measures to cut costs.
"We've recently seen huge increases in the cost of gas, so many of the homes our members visit have people huddled together, freezing in the dead winter, unable to afford heating, and we find people going to bed early so as to conserve electricity," Dr Falzon said.
"People are even reducing the number of times they'll use the stove top because they're worried about the cost."
Low-income support specialist Maree O'Halloran said people in areas like the Tweed went without fresh food and medications just to pay the rent.
"What we see is a lot of debt," the National Welfare Rights Network president said.
She said governments needed to step up. "It certainly needs all levels of government to be looking at their policies," Ms O'Halloran said.
The figures come on the back of national consumer advocate Choice's latest Pulse Report, which said nine out of 10 householders had higher bills than last year.
- APN NEWSDESK