Morrison Dumps Marriage Counselling
3 February 2015 at 9:47 am
New Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison, has dumped a controversial Government plan to offer marriage counselling to couples costing $17 million in favour of funding front line community services.
Morrison announced over the weekend that he would stop funding the Stronger Relationships trial from 9 February and that the Government would provide bridging funding to organisations that had previously been told they had lost funding.
He said he would also issue funding offers to those who were successful in the tender process conducted by the Department of Social Services late last year.
The decision to scrap the Government-funded marriage counselling came after the program received just 10 per cent of the expected participants.
“During the first seven months of the trial, which began on 1 July last year, only around 10,000 couples had registered for the scheme and only one third of these had gone on to attend a relationship education or counselling service. This uptake is well below the 100,000 subsidies available under the trial,” Morrison said.
“The Stronger Relationships 12 month trial scheme offered subsidies for relationship education and counseling, however the program was undersubscribed and will now end on Monday 9 February. This will allow $17 million in savings to be reinvested into essential frontline services under the Department of Social Services (DSS) grants scheme.”
Morrison said the Government would honour the $200 subsidy offered to couples who signed up for the program before 9 February this year.
“The Government understands the importance of stable relationships. Relationship education and counselling services will continue to be provided by organisations who recently received funding for five years under the Australian Government’s Families and Communities Program,” he said.
“The $17 million reinvested into the social services grants scheme will go towards funding extensions for eligible providers to ensure continuity of front line community services following the completion of the tender process under the New Way of Working for Grants.”
It came just days after Morrison announced that he would reverse funding cuts to organisations made just two days before Christmas last year.
“Social services grants support front line services being delivered in our communities, by our communities. My highest priority as we transition to new arrangements is that access to critical frontline services is not interrupted and we avoid unintended consequences,” Morrison said.
“The bridging funding is about ensuring we don’t allow front line service gaps to emerge in critical areas.
“Providers of ongoing frontline services under the grants program will have their funding extended to 30 June 2015 while new services are properly established and clients are appropriately referred. For emergency relief service providers we expect a more rapid transition process and will extend current funding arrangements for these services to 31 March 2015.”
But Morrison said that the funding extensions would not be given to one-off projects.
“The extensions do not relate to one-off projects that may have been funded to provide ad-hoc, trial or short term services. This is about ensuring the continuity of ongoing service in critical front line areas,” he said.
“I also want to make sure that as we work through this process we identify any potential front line service gaps that may emerge in critical areas as we transition from former services providers to new ones.
“Where potential critical services gaps or other unintended consequences are identified in areas of priority need, I will seek to address them separately wherever possible, while being mindful of the Government’s significant budget repair task.
“I don’t want to see critical community services fall between the cracks, which is why I have established this new transitional process to work through any issues that may arise.”
Australia’s peak welfare group, the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), welcomed the announcement saying it was a relief for those organisations that had previously been told two days before Christmas that they would miss out on funding.
"This is a major achievement for community organisations that provide vital support to people and communities across the country," ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie said.
"These organisations have been in a state of crisis: either because they were told they had lost funding with less than two months notice on current contracts, or because they had been told they were successful in their funding applications but without any detail of the amount of funding or what they would be required to do with it.
"When we met with the Minister he indicated the capacity to ensure appropriate transition for already-vulnerable clients was his urgent priority. The Minister has heard our grave concerns about this.
“Today’s announcement will enable services to work with the clients and communities they support to ensure their needs continue to be met, even as the organisations providing that support might change.”
Goldie said there were still funding challenges facing many Not for Profit organisations.
"Of course, this does not mean the $270 million cut to DSS funding over four years has been restored, nor that the key policy and advocacy provided by disability, housing and homelessness organisations has been refunded. At a time when the Government’s reform agenda requires a well-informed community and constructive policy advice, this is a major loss that we continue to oppose,” she said.
"But for the hundreds and thousands of people who rely on services in areas like emergency relief, financial counselling, community mental health and child, youth and family support, this is significant in terms of their ability to continue receiving the support they need.
"We know there are further details still to come, including the implications of two-year contracts and other implications of redesigned processes flowing from the Williams case, as indicated by the Minister.
"ACOSS will continue to work with the sector and the Government to improve the adequacy of funding processes and their transparency to meet community need.”
Minister Morrison said organisations could expect to start negotiating new funding agreements with the Government soon.
“From today, DSS will begin negotiating new funding agreements with the organisations successful in recent grants funding rounds, including around 100 new organisations that will be taking on new service provision responsibilities,” he said.
“Over the coming months the Department will closely monitor the new arrangements to ensure programs are meeting the needs of the community and will make adjustments as required.”