Budget 2016: Shock for Volunteer Programs
Wednesday, 4th May 2016 at 10:04 am
The federal budget has delivered a $12 million funding blow to a major government volunteer program which is set to weaken an already struggling volunteer sector.
National peak body Volunteering Australia said volunteer support organisations would need to brace for the disastrous impact of a dramatic cut to the Department of Social Services Strengthening Communities program.
“The budget cuts mean funding for the program is set to shrink from $40.5 million to $28.4 million over the next four years,” CEO of Volunteering Australia Brett Williamson said.
“Over $8 million of that cut will take place in the first year, with Strengthening Communities funding set to fall to $32 million in 2016/17, in a surprise move that comes as a complete shock to the volunteering sector.
“Volunteering Australia is concerned that this cut represents the federal government’s intention to get out of the business of funding volunteering altogether, and this would come as a terrible loss not just to the volunteering community, but to Australian society.”
The Strengthening Communities program funded a range of programs including the Volunteer Management grants program and the Volunteer Innovation and Collaboration grants.
“These programs were funded at a total of just $6.4 million in the 2015/16 Budget,” Williamson said.
“It also funds the volunteer grants program, which provides funding of up to $5000 to support infrastructure and volunteer expenses. In 2015/16 the total allocation for that program was $20 million.
“Over recent months, Volunteering Australia has been unable to get a straight answer from the Minister for Social Services Christian Porter about the future of federal funding for volunteer management, and it seems that our fears have been realised through a $12 million cut to the program that was designed to support volunteering and civic participation, which is so essential to Australia’s social and economic well being.
“Volunteer-involving organisations have been rightfully concerned following a Department of Social Services grants restructure that saw other organisations funded on three-to-five-year grants but volunteer management programs left out in the cold on uncertain 12 to 18 month funding programs.”
Williamson said the DSS grants restructure, A New Way of Working, promised to provide greater certainty for service providers through longer-term funding agreements.
“But if anything, the volunteering sector has been beset with more uncertainty as a result of this restructure and the budget only exacerbates that,” Williamson said.
“The budget announced a ‘redesign’ of the Strengthening Communities grants program, to be funded through existing resources, with the program set to be renamed Strong and Resilient Communities grants.”
Williamson said organisations currently receiving funding under the Strengthening Communities program were unaware of this redesign plan prior to the budget announcement.
“It is not clear to what extent the cut to funding for the Strengthening Communities/Strong and Resilient Communities program is connected to the announced redesign,” he said.
“At this stage we have no idea what the Strengthening Communities redesign means for the volunteering sector and we will actively pursue further information around this proposed redesign through the Department of Social Services and minister Porter.
“It has not gone unnoticed that the cut to the Strengthening Communities program in 2016/17, at $8 million, is so close to the total 2015/16 budget expenditure on the Volunteer Management grants program, at $6.4 million.”
However a spokesperson for DSS said the redesign of the Strengthening Communities Activity was being undertaken within existing funding levels, as stated in the DSS Budget Measures Papers.
“The $40.5 million allocated in 2015-16 includes additional funding of approximately $12.5 million,” the spokesperson said.
“Following the Department’s 2014 grant selection processes, volunteer involving organisations were initially offered funding for 12-18 months until 30 June 2016. This shorter funding period was to ensure future funding decisions could align with emerging government priorities.
“Funding for these organisations is now being extended until 30 June 2017, in line with remaining Strengthening Communities Activity programs.”
Brett Williamson said volunteering played a critical role in Australian society, and in Australia’s economy.
“Dr Lisel O’Dwyer of Flinders University has estimated the annual economic contribution of volunteering in Australia at $290 billion,” Williamson said.
“Any federal investment in volunteering is an investment that delivers enormous benefit to our society, to our economy, and as the title of the funding program suggests, delivers a stronger and more resilient Australian community – the federal government must commit to continue its funding for volunteer management.”
In June 2015 new ABS data showed volunteering rates in Australia were declining for the first time in almost 20 years with 75 per cent of people surveyed saying they feel too rushed or pressed for time. The figures showed that volunteering in Australia had fallen by five per cent since 2010.
In April, the 2016 State of Volunteering in Australia found that 86 per cent of volunteer involving organisations were struggling to get the numbers they need, with volunteers deterred by factors such as personal expense, red tape and a lack of flexibility.