Homeless Services At Crisis Levels - Report
13 August 2012 at 10:59 am
A major welfare report has shown that Australia’s housing and homelessness services are stretched and unable to meet growing demand, with legal services hardest hit.
The Australian Council Of Social Services (ACOSS) Australian Community Sector Survey 2012 report involving 665 agencies from around Australia is described as the most comprehensive picture of how the non-government community services and welfare sector is travelling.
"There is no doubt that housing and homelessness services remain the area of highest need in our community, with 81 per cent reporting they simply cannot meet demand. Despite this there is some good news with a drop in the number of services actually turning people away,” ACOSS Chief Executive Cassandra Goldie said.
Goldie says this year’s report also shows the crisis engulfing the nation’s community legal services. The report found that 14 per cent (or 11,693 people) presenting for help were turned away over the past year.
"About 73 per cent of legal services around the country reported not being about to meet demand for services, surpassed only by the problems we know are facing housing and homeless services.
"This is particularly concerning since community legal centres work with partners in legal aid commissions and Indigenous legal services to help people who cannot afford a lawyer. Over 80 per cent of the people they help receive under $26,000 a year in income. These are people who do not qualify for legal aid and seeking help with civil and family law issues, such as evictions, tenancy, debts, family violence, dismissals and employment issues and relationship breakdown,” she said.
"We know that Australian Government legal aid funding per capita has fallen by about 22 per cent in real terms since 1997. Even the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department has noted that 98 per cent of legal aid recipients receive an income that could be considered below the poverty line. This leaves much of Australia unable to afford legal representation.
"ACOSS' Report is further evidence of this gross underfunding and the devastating impacting its having – not only on services but also on the people they are there to assist, some of the most disadvantaged groups in our community.
Other services reporting high levels of unmet need include: Mental health (57 per cent); Domestic violence and sexual assault support (52 per cent); Youth Services (46 per cent); and Emergency Relief (45 per cent).
Community Law Australia, a coalition of community legal centre bodies led by the National Association of Community Legal Centres has called on Federal and State Governments to address extreme funding shortages to community legal centres before the crisis in access to legal help worsens.
Commenting on the ACOSS report, CLA Campaign Chair Michael Smith said that the levels of unmet demand and lack of access to justice should act as a wake-up call to governments.
“Unless governments of all levels act to increase funding to community legal centres, more and more people will miss out on access to quality free legal help,” Smith said.
“Levels of unmet demand have skyrocketed, and we are seeing State Governments around the country making cuts that will actually exacerbate, rather than improve the situation."
Key results from the Report include:
Housing the highest need
- Nearly three in five respondents listed housing among ‘high need' services of clients
- 81 per cent say they cannot meet demand for their services
- 63 per cent of respondents said waiting times for this service have increased
- There were 303,713 instances of service provision but 20,496 instances (eight per cent) of people turned away or 56 people turned away each day from services responding to this survey
Legal services in strife
Legal service providers were the second highest service type to report difficulties in meeting demand.
- 73 per cent could not meet demand for services
- Most community legal services reported unmet demand, underfunding, restricted services to clients, and increasing waiting lists.
- There were 119,886 instances of service provision, but 11,693 (or 14 per cent) were turned away
Domestic violence and sexual assault support services feel the strain
- 52 per cent reported they could not keep up with demand
- 68 per cent of respondents reported that that costs of this service exceeded revenue
- 66 per cent required staff/volunteers to work longer hours
- 52 per cent said waiting times for this service have increased
- 139,179 people received services from survey respondents but 4,322 people (or three per cent) were turned away
Emergency relief services feeling the pinch
- 45 per cent of services reported emergency relief services as an area of high need.
- Over 80 per cent of emergency relief services had to target services more tightly to meet demand.
- Three-quarters of respondents said costs exceeded revenue for emergency relief.
- 499,743 people received emergency relief services, but 3,747 people (six per cent) were turned away.
Mental health anguish
Mental health was second only to homelessness/housing as the area of highest need, nominated by 57 per cent of services.
Youth Services in trouble
- 46 per cent could not meet demand
- 78,100 persons received services but 2,834 people (or five per cent) were turned away by respondents
- 60 per cent of services reported that costs of this service exceeded revenue
- 70 per cent reported requiring staff/volunteers to work longer hours to meet demand