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Community Services Can’t Meet Demand - ACOSS

8 December 2014 at 9:23 am
Xavier Smerdon
A survey of Australia’s community service workers has found that 80 per cent of frontline agencies are unable to meet current levels of demand with the resources they have.

Xavier Smerdon | 8 December 2014 at 9:23 am


Community Services Can’t Meet Demand - ACOSS
8 December 2014 at 9:23 am

A survey of Australia’s community service workers has found that 80 per cent of frontline agencies are unable to meet current levels of demand with the resources they have.

The survey results, released today by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), showed that the biggest gaps in meeting demand are in the areas of greatest community need.

Almost 1,000 community service workers from around Australia were surveyed, with the findings showing that 43 per cent of services were unable to meet the needs of people coming to them for help. A further 37 per cent can ‘almost’ meet demand and only 20 per cent reported being able to meet demand fully.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said she was “perturbed” by the results.

“From the coalface of community work, our findings are deeply concerning and should ring alarm bells for Federal Government policies that would inflict deeper pain on the people doing it toughest in our community,” Goldie said.

“As a society we simply cannot accept policies that will further erode the living conditions of people on the lowest incomes, or reduce the social services that are their lifeline.

“We are particularly perturbed about the state of our nation’s community legal and accommodation services, which have reported great difficulty meeting demand: 72% and 51% respectively are unable to meet demand. Yet, despite the urgent need for these services in our community, they have been subjected to Federal funding cuts and ongoing funding uncertainty.”

Goldie said that services reported they would need to increase capacity substantially to meet current demand levels in these and other vital areas of need.

“We are troubled by the plight of both young and older people not in paid work and of single parents, with community service workers reporting a noticeable deterioration in their quality of life and levels of stress in the past year. 50 per cent of on-the-ground community workers said that quality of life was ‘a lot worse’ for young unemployed people and 56 per cent perceived that life for sole parents was more stressful,” she said.

“Life for both young and older unemployed people has become more stressful over the past 12 months and community workers identified employment and affordable housing as top policy priority issues that urgently need to be addressed.”

Goldie added that Government funding doubts had created a “climate of uncertainty, both in funding for crucial services and for vulnerable groups in our community”.

“The Federal Government needs to go back to the drawing board on some of its deeply unfair Budget measures, including significant funding cuts for social and community service programmes, and proposals such as removing payments for young unemployed people for six months of each year. This was the strong recommendation of a Senate Reference Committee last week, which found that the harsh approach of the Budget will push more people into poverty and disadvantage,” she said.

“The government must abandon other damaging measures which threaten to make the situation worse for people and families on low incomes, including restricting access to Newstart to over 25s; freezing family payments; lowering indexation of pensions; further targeting of people on disability support pension; and introducing a $7 GP co-payment.

“Already 2.5 million people are living below the poverty line in Australia, including 603,000 children. Now is the time for us to work together as a community to turn this picture around. Australia’s community welfare sector, which contributes 5% to our nation’s GDP and employers nearly one million people, is working hard to meet this challenge.

“We urge governments at all levels to work with us in the pursuit of evidence-based policies that will be effective, not ones based on short term budgetary imperatives that will cost us more as a community in the longer term.”

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said that the Federal Government must act to address the high levels of unmet need and help with the burden being placed on the nation's NFP sector.

"This report comes after a year of hard-line policies, budget cuts and threats from the Federal Government. Tony Abbott and his cabinet are responsible for Australia's increasingly ineffective social safety net," Siewert said.

"Practically every decision the Government has made this year makes things harder for the most vulnerable members of our society, and they are the people who most rely on charities, emergency relief organisations and other community services.

"In addition to their cruel budget cuts, the Government is also taking vital funding from organisations, stripping $240 million out of the discretionary grants program and $534 million out of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs.

"In spite of this growing pressure, the Government remains wedded  to plans to axe the ACNC, which will throw a greater administrative burden onto service providers.

"Rather than punishing our poorest people and undermining the community sector, the Government should focus on investments in affordable housing, employment, education and skills development, health and income support."

Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews has been contacted for comment. 

The full report can be found here.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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