NFPs Demand Action on Housing Affordability Crisis
2 July 2013 at 12:08 pm
National housing peak bodies and other leading welfare agencies have called on all political parties to make housing a priority issue at the upcoming Federal Election.
The call follows the release of a major survey of Australia’s community services sector by the Australian Council of Social Service which revealed frontline agencies were under enormous strain and unable to meet the growing demand for help.
“This is borne out by the fact that across the board, all services overwhelmingly nominated this as the greatest need of clients coming to them for help. Nearly 70% of housing and homeless services themselves reported that they struggled to meet demand, with a 5% increase in the number of people turned away.“The clear message from this year’s survey is that Australia’s housing affordability crisis is having a devastating impact, especially for people on the lowest incomes who are falling deeper into poverty,” ACOSS Deputy CEO, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine said.
“Leading charities and national housing peak groups today outlined considered proposals that would go some way to dealing with a crisis that is hurting so many people, yet barely mentioned in the election context.
“We want to see all-party support for immediate action."
The priorities shared by the peak agencies and national welfare agencies include:
- Make the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS), that provides incentives for investment in affordable housing, permanent and immediately provide 50,000 new incentives
- Commit to an affordable housing growth fund
- Lift the level of Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) and review its effectiveness
- Make a serious commitment to address homelessness and, as part of this, increase funding for homelessness services to match unmet need
- Sign a new National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness
“Another urgent priority is to increase Newstart which has failed to keep up with community living standards. Our survey found almost 80% of people presenting to housing and homeless services were wholly reliant on income support payments, and most were on low payments like Newstart," Boyd-Caine said.
“One of the striking features (of the survey) was that almost 80% of people present the housing and homeless services that participated in the survey were wholly reliant on income support payments. They were also highly represented in numbers seeking help as reported by emergency relief providers (75%) and mental health services (61%).
“The other services under significant stress who reported being unable to meet demand among their own client groups were legal services (63%), youth services (52%) and emergency relief (47%) providers. Mental health (47%) and domestic violence and sexual assault services (46%) also reported being unable to meet demand for services.
“Most services reported having targeted their services more tightly or limiting service levels to meet demand. This was especially so for legal services (85%), emergency relief providers (82%) and mental health services (70%).
“These measures resulted in lower numbers of people being turned away than otherwise would have been the case. However, legal service still reported the highest level of turn-aways (20%). High numbers were also turned away from youth welfare (17%), housing and homelessness services (16%) and domestic violence services (13%).
A report released at the same time by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) showed that more than 157,000 people used specialist homelessness services in the six months from July to December 2012.
The report, Specialist homelessness services: July-December 2012, shows almost half (47%) were already homeless when they began receiving support, and over a fifth (22%) were sleeping without shelter or in an improvised or inadequate dwelling.
The most common reason for seeking assistance was domestic and family violence, while ‘financial difficulties' was the second most common reason for seeking assistance-and was more commonly reported among males (17% of males compared with 14% of females).
“Our overall findings paint a disturbing picture of a sector under critical pressure, including from chronic underfunding and uncertainty about the funding of services," Boyd-Caine said.
"A majority of all services reported that the cost of delivering services exceeded revenue, and over the past three years our survey has consistently identified this as the most significant challenge facing the sector into the future.”
Summary of ACOSS Report key findings
Housing still the highest priority for clients and policy makers
- 66% of housing and homeless services report struggling to meet demand.
- Over 60% of overall respondents listed housing and homelessness services amongst those for which their clients had the highest need.
- 61% of all respondents said improving housing availability and affordability is the top policy priority.
- 62% said waiting times for services had increased since the previous 12 months.
- Services reported a 16% turn-away rate, up 5% from 2010/11.
Legal services turn away one-fifth of all clients in need
- 63% of legal service providers reported not being able to meet demand for services, and legal services ranked second highest on inability to meet demand.
- 20% of all clients in need of assistance from surveyed community legal services were turned away in 2011/12, the highest turn-away rate across all service types.
- 85% of legal services reported having targeted their services more tightly or limiting service levels to meet demand.
- 67% reported being underfunded and 59% said they had increased waiting times for services.
- 76% of services asked staff and volunteers to work additional hours in attempt to meet demand.
Youth Services also report extremely high turn-away rates
- Youth services reported the second highest client turn-away rate of 17% – almost 8% up on the previous year.
- 52% could not meet demand.
- 65% required staff or volunteers to work longer hours and targeted services more tightly or limited service levels to meet demand.
Mental health services, emergency relief in high need, yet struggle to meet demand
- 57% identified mental health services as ‘high need’, while 40% identified emergency relief
- Increasing the availability of mental health services was the third highest policy priority for the sector’s clients.
- Over 80% of emergency relief providers agreed that the cost of service delivery exceeded revenue and reported targeting services more tightly or limiting service levels to meet demand.
- 70% of mental health services also reported targeting services more tightly to meet demand.
The survey can be downloaded here.