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Government Policy Failure to Blame for Rising Homelessness

15 May 2018 at 3:36 pm
Luke Michael
The Australian government’s failure to invest in social and affordable housing and policy failures around welfare are the key drivers behind rising homelessness in Australia, according to new independent analysis.

Luke Michael | 15 May 2018 at 3:36 pm


Government Policy Failure to Blame for Rising Homelessness
15 May 2018 at 3:36 pm

The Australian government’s failure to invest in social and affordable housing and policy failures around welfare are the key drivers behind rising homelessness in Australia, according to new independent analysis.

On Tuesday, Launch Housing released The Australian Homelessness Monitor 2018.

The report is the first national longitudinal study of homelessness in Australia, and was commissioned in conjunction with the University of NSW and the University of Queensland.

Researchers examined the incidence of homelessness in Australia, the policy drivers behind homelessness and solutions to alleviate the issue.

Recent census data showed 116,000 Australians were homeless on census night 2016 – a 14 per cent rise from 2011 – and the monitor found that homelessness was outpacing population growth, while housing demand was outstripping supply.

Housing prices have also increased as wages have been falling. National property prices increased by 80 per cent in the past decade while median household incomes rose only by 40 per cent.

One of the report’s authors, Associate Professor Cameron Parsell, told Pro Bono News that policy failures from the Australian government around affordable housing and welfare were to blame for the homelessness increase.

“It really is a story of policy failure that explains the rise of homelessness and that is around policy failures to invest in affordable housing and policy failures to increase the incomes of Australia’s poorest citizens,” Parsell said.

“There is no doubt whatsoever that the reduction in the overall funding for social and affordable housing is the key driver of homelessness.

“There are also other policies that are either directly driving this or placing greater precariousness on the lives of people who are homeless or in vulnerable housing situations, and some of these are around welfare policy, welfare conditionality, and sanctions.”

The report noted that although not universally the case, recent government policy initiatives had “more often exacerbated rather than ameliorated homelessness”.

“Among homelessness services agencies responding to our online survey, 71 per cent believed that recent Australian government changes to the welfare benefits system and/or Centrelink practices had aggravated homelessness,” the report said.

“Just over a third of survey respondents (36 per cent) believed that recent policy changes or initiatives at the state and territory level had helped to tackle homelessness. At the same time, just over half (53 per cent) reported that the past five years had seen policy changes enacted that had worsened the problem.”

People relying on social security benefits, particularly Newstart and Youth Allowance, have been at great risk of homelessness and housing stress, according to the report.

“The failure to adequately index these payments, as in the case of Commonwealth Rent Assistance, has been progressively increasing the homelessness vulnerability of eligible recipients,” the report said.

The report also found that Victoria – which has implemented a Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Plan – has seen only a 3 per cent increase in rough sleeping, whereas New South Wales saw a 35 per cent increase.

Parsell said this highlighted that programs targeting homelessness could make a significant difference.

“And that’s what the really critical story is here. So many people get caught up on this idea that homelessness is complex and the lives of people who are homeless are deeply complex, [but this] casts a shadow over the very clear policy solutions,” he said.

“There are examples of programs which have access to affordable housing so people can immediately access and sustain housing, and can also have material conditions where they can bring order and control to their lives.”

He added that the story was not about a poor economy driving homelessness, but rather about decisions made about where to invest taxpayer money.

“If we don’t invest in models of affordable housing, including measures that can incentivise the markets to develop affordable housing, then the market is not going to provide that housing for Australia’s poorest citizens,” Parsell said.

Tony Keenan, the CEO of Launch Housing, said Australia’s housing market was at breaking point.

“The monitor shows the direct relationship between government policies and levels of homelessness. Lack of affordable housing, cuts to social security, lower wages and higher housing prices contribute. People living in poverty are more affected,” Keenan said.

“We must see a shared effort from the Australian government, the states and territories to address housing affordability. The monitor shows us there has been a period of inaction that has led to increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness.

“Governments and decision-makers have been stuck in a policy echo-chamber. There are tangible things that state and federal governments can do now to fix Australia’s housing crisis.”

The report concluded that housing, welfare and employment support policies and homelessness programs represented significant opportunities to significantly reduce homelessness.

“For any realistic prospect of progress, the Australian government needs to… re-engage with the problem through a coherent strategic vision to reduce the scale of homelessness… and recommit to government support sufficient to ensure that provision of social and affordable housing keeps pace with growing need, at the very least,” the report said.

In wake of the report, the Everybody’s Home campaign called for all parties to support a bipartisan national plan to end homelessness by 2030.

Campaign spokesperson, Kate Colvin, said the monitor highlighted the government’s ineffective national response over the past decade.

“The homelessness monitor shows we’re seeing more people of every generation homeless, and more people being forced to sleep rough,” Colvin said.

“It shows that punitive welfare policies and the inadequacy of Newstart and rising housing costs are forcing more people in to poverty.

“And with successive decreases in investment in social housing there is simply nowhere for thousands of people who are vulnerable or at risk of homelessness to live.”

Parsell said he agreed that a national action plan on homelessness was an urgent priority.

“That’s what is very evident at the moment, we don’t have a plan. In 2008, prime minister Kevin Rudd identified a plan, he brought on board the six states and two territories and there was a conversation and an aspiration with clear policy objectives about doing something,” he said.

“We’ve certainly lost all of that momentum at the moment and there are ad hoc policies and programs around the place that may or may not work.

“But that’s certainly not coupled with the infrastructure or a coherent plan to increase the supply of affordable housing or to reduce the numbers of homeless people in Australia. Having a national plan is really the first step.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.


  • louise says:

    Hello I have tried to print this but it does not print the pictures or other pages from the links. Is there away of printing properly with the whole article.

    • Luke Michael says:

      Hi Louise, thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately our website can only show text when printing articles. But we will definitely take your feedback on board.


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