Welfare Rights Centre Defunded
16 April 2013 at 10:13 am
The executive of a specialist Not for Profit welfare service, Welfare Rights Centre has sought an urgent meeting with the NSW Government after news it is to be defunded after 30 years of service.
“The Welfare Rights Centre in NSW has been funded for 30 years by NSW Community Services because we share a client base. That base included vulnerable families and young people, people with disabilities, older people and unemployed people,” Director of Welfare Rights Centre in NSW Maree O’Halloran said.
“Senior Officers of Community Services advised us on 11 April 2013 that we were to be defunded. Our first question was about our current clients and transition. We were shocked to find that after 30 years of delivering this service, no consideration was given to our clients at all. The loss of 5 frontline staff was also of no consideration.
“NSW Communities now focuses exclusively on child protection and we commend their work in this regard. Some, but not all, of our work prevents the removal of children. Other aspects include preventing homelessness, debt and abject poverty and relieving pressures on other agencies. There is no alternate provider in NSW.
“Welfare Rights understands that we no longer fit neatly into the Community Services arm of the NSW Family and Community Services cluster. However, despite Department restructuring, we deliver a valuable service to thousands of NSW families and individuals,” O’Halloran said.
“Our service often has to challenge Centrelink decisions and so there is a legitimate and necessary role for both levels of Government to support the most vulnerable people in our community.
“The Welfare Rights service in NSW has been a shared responsibility with Commonwealth, State and income self -generated by the Centre. Social security and family assistance are Commonwealth areas but the public value of our service and the benefits are realised in NSW. For example, annually approximately $2 million of debt is prevented or waived by our caseworker interventions. This calendar year we are well on track to that target having reached $723, 000 of debt prevention or waiver already,” she said.
“Our clients often have complex problems and are dealing with a variety of NSW and Commonwealth government agencies around issues involving child welfare, child protection, magistrates, juvenile justice, mental health, and, of course, public housing.
“Many of our clients are referred by major charities because we provide a unique, specialist service with respect to income support. In this way we relieve pressure on other NSW services.”
There are no alternative services that can pick up the work specialist undertaken by Welfare Rights. Leaked documents obtained by the media last year titled FACS Community Services Division: further savings strategies, dated July 18, 2012, notes that the cessation of funding for the Welfare Rights Centre would mean “significant increased demand placed upon alternative service providers” and it was unclear whether alternative options existed.
The NSW Minister for Community Services Pru Goward has agreed to meet with the Welfare Rights Centre on 18 April 2013.
“We hope that we can convince the Government to look more broadly at our role than the NSW Community Service realigned structure.
“We are currently undertaking a campaign with all our stakeholders with the aim of ensuring that our statewide, specialist service does not disappear leaving huge unmet need which will inevitably fall on other services,” O’Halloran said.