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Welfare Agencies On The Edge

17 February 2003 at 12:02 pm
Staff Reporter
Despite delivering more services to more people, higher costs and heavy demand are forcing community welfare agencies to turn more people away.

Staff Reporter | 17 February 2003 at 12:02 pm


Welfare Agencies On The Edge
17 February 2003 at 12:02 pm

Despite delivering more services to more people, higher costs and heavy demand are forcing community welfare agencies to turn more people away.

Many services are struggling to meet higher insurance costs, manage and train staff and volunteers and meet accountability requirements.

These are the findings of ACOSS’s national report of how community sector agencies are faring. Australians Living on the Edge provides a snapshot of 700 agencies which together provide services to two million Australians a year.

ACOSS says Australians Living on the Edge is a unique report and required reading for all policy makers.

ACOSS President, Andrew McCallum says this survey is the fifth ACOSS has conducted with the State and Territory Councils of Social Service and it shows the persistence of community need for services and the challenges for agencies in responding to immediate needs.

The survey found there has been a 12% increase in the number of people assisted by community service organisations over the last two years.

McCallum says despite agencies helping 2.4 million people, 180,000 people did not receive the help they sought in 2002. This represents a 19% jump from the previous year.

He says higher operating and insurance costs, an increase in the number of people seeking assistance and the complexity of client needs help to explain why agencies had to turn people away.

Many agencies reported they were under increasing pressure and forced to create or extend waiting lists, increase referrals to other agencies and rely on unfunded effort by staff and volunteers to cope, often with limited training and support.

Sha Cordingley, the CEO of Volunteering Australia says the survey highlights the critical role of volunteers in delivering community services and that the current levels of training provided to support volunteers is generally

She says its important that funding bodies and community service organisations recognise the need to adequately train volunteers and budget to ensure that this can occur.

Linda White, the Assistant National Secretary of the Australian Services Union adds that community service workers are working in their own
time to meet increasing demand. This is bad for the long-term health of workers and for the quality of service provision. Quality
services are built on valuing the skills required to work in community services and providing good working conditions.

The ABS estimates there are at least 9,000 organisations delivering community services across Australia, employing hundreds of thousands of paid staff and volunteers. The survey provides a unique snapshot of how frontline community service agencies are faring including in areas like training and insurance. Seven hundred community agencies participated in the survey across the country.

ACOSS says by providing a deeper understanding of the size, shape and experiences of this sector over time, it is an important tool for the development of social policy and strategies to support the important work of
the sector.


* There has been a 12% increase in the estimated number of people assisted by respondent agencies between the 2000-01 and 2001-02 financial years, rising from 2,135,331 to 2,382,799 people.

* There has been a 19% increase in the estimated numbers of people seeking but not receiving the service(s) they sought from respondent agencies between the 2000-01 and 2001-02 financial years, rising from 151,720 to 180,956 people. This problem is most acute in the housing area where 29% of the client population base did not receive the services they sought.

* Community sector organisations continue to work under increasing pressure, with only 2% of responses indicating they had experienced no increase in pressure. The main reasons given for the increase in pressure were an increase in operating costs (18%), an increase in the number numbers of clients seeking services (16%), and the increasingly complex needs of clients (15%).

* In response to the increase in pressure, agencies continue to rely heavily on staff to provide additional unfunded work and/or are turning to volunteers (17%). The creation and extension of waiting lists, increased referrals and closer targeting of services were used by 28% of organisations as ways of dealing with the pressures they faced.

* There have been only slight variations in the proportion of income derived from government sources, client fees, business contributions and ‘other’ sources. Overall, the figures suggest that an increasing number of organisations are looking to ‘other’ forms of income generation to support their activities.

* Many organisations (42%) expect not to be able to meet an increase in demand and/or costs over the next 12 months.

* Volunteers provide an immense contribution to the work of sector organisations, particularly in the actual delivery of services. While the average number of paid staff employed by respondent agencies is 25, the average number of volunteers (including board, clerical and service delivery volunteers) is 40.

* A third of respondent agencies indicated that they had experienced difficulties in obtaining insurance in 2001-02 with 71% indicating that the cost of insurance was the major difficulty. Sixty six per cent of all respondents indicated that they are paying more for insurance in 2002-03 than in 2001-02, with an average increase per agency of $5,287.

* The level of training within the sector appears to be patchy and generally inadequate. Of particular concern is that voluntary service delivery workers, who are at the critical interface between the service delivery agency and members of the community, received on average of $23 worth of training per person in the 2001-02 financial year.

Copies of the full report: “Australians Living on the Edge 5”- ACOSS Paper 125 – are available for $13.30 (discounts for members and
concessions). Call 02 9310 4844 to order a copy or email

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