A mixed budget for the sector
8 October 2020 at 6:30 am
Bruce Argyle, head of the Not-for-Profit Specialist team at Bendigo Bank, reflects on what we saw, and what we did not see, in the federal budget.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and Tuesday’s federal budget was just that.
The treasurer announced a record $250 billion in stimulus spending to help kickstart the Australian economy and invest in jobs in the wake of COVID-19. To put this in perspective, the stimulus package released in the wake of the GFC was $50 billion.
We welcome the budget’s support for small and medium businesses, direct assistance to families and the raft of measures designed to create jobs. With charities and not for profits employing one in 10 Australian workers, these measures will be a lifeline for many in the sector.
However, federal budgets are also an opportunity for governments to share a long-term vision for the future. While this budget couldn’t be anything but a response to the devastating economic environment we find ourselves in, there are some missed opportunities for the government to realise a social return on their investment.
What we saw in the budget
Wage stagnation and a sluggish economy will make these tax cuts a welcome relief for the 11 million taxpayers expected to receive a discount. Our Rental Affordability Index consistently shows that renting is unaffordable for many groups, including single parents, pensioners and young people, to live in Australian cities with access to jobs, schools and hospitals.
However, there is concern that tax cuts could erode the revenue base required to both repay debt and provide the social safety net our community requires when times are tough.
Tax relief is a welcome injection, but long-term action is required to address affordability issues, especially for vulnerable groups.
2020 has been an extremely difficult year for many and the government’s announcements on mental health funding are a much-needed boost to the sector. Seven million mental health sessions have been provided since the pandemic began, and the doubling of Medicare supported mental health sessions will ensure services can continue.
The extension of telehealth will also improve access to those with mobility issues or those living regionally or in isolated environments.
However, the sector has noted more support is needed for children, for whom remote learning and isolation have proved challenging, as well as groups with intersectional needs such as Indigenous communities, culturally and linguistically diverse groups and regional communities that have experienced floods, drought and fire and in some instances, a combination of these disastrous events.
During the economic recovery after the GFC, young people experienced a dip in their income while other demographics experienced an increase. This dip has followed them, with many now experiencing a compounded economic impact from COVID-19. The focus on getting young people back into work through JobMaker is a great investment in both individuals and the economy. Additional university places and support for apprenticeships are also welcome.
However, 928,000 people over the age of 35 will be ineligible for JobMaker, prompting many to question whether it will be harder for older workers, many of whom support families, to regain meaningful employment.
Support for the regions
We warmly welcome the raft of announcements designed to strengthen the regions. The impacts of drought continue to be felt around Australia, and so the $2 billion increase in concessional loans for affected farmers is a great step.
Rural and regional communities are tight knit and are known for pulling together when times are tough. It’s important that investment in social infrastructure is not overlooked when rolling out regional infrastructure initiatives. With the increasing number of people now successfully working from home, there is plenty of scope to further expand rural and regional based opportunities.
What we didn’t see in the budget
Social and affordable housing
Right now, hundreds of thousands of Australians are sitting on a waitlist for public housing. Many more are facing extreme affordability pressures in private rental, and alarmingly, rates of homelessness are increasing, particularly in women over 55.
While measures such as the increase in low-cost finance for CHPs are welcome, the missed opportunity to invest in social and affordable housing is disappointing. Housing is important social infrastructure with positive economic flow-on effects that transcend generations. The Community Housing Industry Association’s proposal for government investment in social housing showed 60,000 jobs would be created and 30,000 homes built over four years if the government invested more in social housing. This would have addressed a dire social need while also stimulating the economy.
Many have dubbed this recession the “Pink Recession” due to its disproportionate effect on women. Women have been more likely to lose their job during COVID-19 and more likely to leave the workforce altogether – many supporting at home learning or caring responsibilities.
With women more likely to be primary caregivers, there has been a missed opportunity to boost female economic participation by investing in childcare. Research routinely shows that the returns from public investment in childcare regularly exceed the investment.
As a female dominated sector, investment in childcare would have the double effect of providing more employment for women and providing more women with support to return to the workplace.
Unfortunately, we saw no permanent increase to JobSeeker, which many not for profits and economists were calling for. Over 2 million people rely on these payments to make ends meet. While tax cuts will assist those in work, and the JobMaker package will assist young people into employment, over 900,000 people living week to week will miss out altogether.
We are now coming up to the 12-month anniversary of the Black Summer bushfires. This will be a difficult time for those communities who lived through these fires and are now also experiencing the varying impacts of COVID-19.
While small mention was made of funding being made available for wildlife recovery, the double whammy impacts of natural disaster and the pandemic have created a complex problem across fire affected areas, with many people losing the ability to bounce back faster than they otherwise might have.
As Australia’s fifth largest retail bank in more than 500 communities across Australia, we have been assisting thousands of our customers through loan deferrals, support and advice during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to work with our customers and communities to support them through economic recovery.
About the author: Bruce Argyle is head of the Not-for-Profit Specialist Team at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, chair of the Healesville & District Community Bank, and member of the ACNC Sector Users Reference Group. He has previously held roles at Philanthropy Australia and National Disability Services. Bruce chairs Bendigo Bank’s Social Investment Grants Committee.
Our 2020 budget coverage is brought to you by Bendigo Bank