THE two-speed economy is exacerbating cost-of-living pressures on those most in need, a Salvation Army report reveals.
The group surveyed more than 1700 people seeking emergency support about how the cost of living was hurting them.
It found 94% of those surveyed did not have any money set aside for emergency situations, 52% went without meals and 29% could not afford a decent meal each day.
The survey also found 45% of people going to the Salvos were forced to sell or pawn their possessions just to get by.
Major Bruce Harmer said cost-of-living increases meant many people were going without things that most Australians took for granted - like nutritious food or a warm bed.
"We are seeing large numbers of families - including working mums and dads - who just cannot make ends meet," he said.
"A number of these people are making heartbreaking decisions about whether to feed their kids or pay their bills.
"Without doubt we are seeing more clients suffering from stress and anxiety than ever before."
"All of this indicates people are becoming more and more desperate."
Major Harmer said the financial risks families were taking, including too much debt, were contributing to relationship breakdown, substance abuse and disruption to school study.