Welfare Peak Concerned Competition Reform Will Impact Disadvantaged
11 August 2016 at 4:25 pm
The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) is concerned that competition reform in the human services sector will impact people experiencing poverty and inequality, as well as the organisations that support them.
The Productivity Commission inquiry into Australia’s human services will review health, education and community services, with a focus on innovative ways to improve outcomes through competition and informed user choice, while maintaining or improving their quality.
In its response to the Issues Paper, Human Services: Identifying Sectors for Reform, the peak body for welfare organisations said competition could undermine the core principles underpinning human services, including universality.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie told Pro Bono Australia News past experience showed that competition in human services could lead to poor social and economic outcomes.
“ACOSS and our members are deeply concerned that competition reforms do not always lead to better outcomes for people accessing human services, particularly those who are on low incomes and disadvantaged,” Goldie said.
“The experience from the last 20 years highlights the risks of competitive approaches, with the loss of local services, the standardisation of service models and little or no choice for people about where they get assistance.
“The outsourcing of human service functions can also lead to reduced accountability by government for the services it funds and which communities rely on. We believe that reforms should therefore be approached extremely cautiously in this area.”
She said there were a number of risks of increasing competition.
“ACOSS is concerned that the quality, affordability and accessibility of services may be further compromised by competitive approaches, with the risk of increased user charges, reduced service standards and fewer community based providers,” she said.
In its response, ACOSS said it was concerned that the review did not take a cautious approach to competition, such as first proceeding with pilot programs.
It also said Australia already had “lengthy experience” using competitive approaches to deliver human services, including universal services such as health and childcare, and targeted community services such as employment assistance and financial counselling.
Goldie said it was possible to achieve innovation and higher-quality service provision without focusing on competition.
“The focus in human services should be on ‘user control’ of services to ensure people receive the support they need, rather than a ‘consumer choice’ model. Reform should seek to empower people to decide on the kind of services and supports they need, in partnership with a service they trust, with an emphasis on organisations with strong local networks,” she said.
“Adequate and stable funding of community services is a pre-requisite, with community services still reeling from the impacts of a $1 billion cut in 2014 and further cuts since.
“A ideological approach that sees competition as the only solution risks undermining the quality and affordability of the services many of community organisations deliver and will particularly hurt people with little means or power to navigate the system.”
The Productivity Commission will release its preliminary findings in September.