What the social sector will be looking for on budget night
6 October 2020 at 8:00 am
We speak to experts across the sector about what they are hoping to see
It’s being hailed as one of the most important federal budgets in 75 years.
A far cry from the surplus budget a year ago, this year’s budget is expected to contain the largest deficit in decades – just over $210 billion – as well as some big spending.
Talk in the lead up has focused on tax cuts, incentives for hiring and investment, infrastructure spending and a gas-led recovery, as the government tries to kickstart the economy during a pandemic.
But what does this all mean for the social sector?
For the sector, the big ticket items they want this year are increases to Jobseeker and social housing. This has been backed by a number of leading economists, but so far there’s been no indication that the Morrison government is planning a boost to either area.
Meanwhile, the sector has expressed concerns around the focus on income tax cuts, with suggestions this won’t stimulate the economy – and will benefit people who don’t need them.
In an open letter to the prime minister and treasurer published last week, the Charities Crisis Cabinet said the cuts would “inevitably lead to reductions in government capacity to offer important support services”.
It urged the government to build our economic recovery on the basis of equity and prosperity for all Australians – a message that many in the sector have echoed in the quest to “build back better” post-COVID.
CCA CEO David Crosbie told Pro Bono News he wants to see levels of government support and expenditure increasing, not decreasing.
“Ideally the build back better approach will not just be about physical infrastructure and new buildings, but also about stronger social infrastructure to ensure all Australians have the opportunity to realise their potential and drive increased productivity,” he said.
Social Ventures Australia CEO Suzie Riddell said SVA would like to see government take advantage of the full range of stimulus opportunities that exist in the charity and not-for-profit sector.
“Charities employ one in 10 of Australia’s workforce, and they are not able to access many of government’s existing and mooted stimulus measures such as tax write-offs,” Riddell said.
“If charities are forced to close or to shed staff, there will be major economic and social consequences for Australians, especially those made vulnerable by the COVID crisis.”
Certainly, a lot of eyes in the charity sector will be on the details of individual program areas, to see where funding will be maintained, or not.
Riddell said she wants to see the Commonwealth commit its share of funding to establishing and funding a national education evidence institute, which she said would support teachers to implement evidence-based approaches in school classrooms and early learning centres.
She echoed the calls for support for social infrastructure such as affordable and social housing.
ACOSS said the federal budget should focus on preventing financial stress and poverty, creating jobs, supporting employment participation, delivering immediate benefits to the broader economy and providing additional support to those groups most affected by the impacts of COVID-19 to date.
In particular the organisation is advancing a package of targeted investment proposals to:
- stimulate immediate activity in key industries while delivering social and environmental benefits for the long-term (e.g. social housing, energy efficiency and care workforce investments);
- permanently lift the incomes of those who are unemployed or on the lowest “allowance” payments;
- support people to return to paid work as the economy recovers through employment partnerships, a jobs and training guarantee, career guidance, employment services reforms and more affordable child care;
- strengthen the resilience of communities to extreme weather events; and
- ensure the continuity and sustainability of social services through the pandemic and beyond to maintain the services the community relies on and support the care sector workforce.
Coming just weeks after 2.3 million people on JobSeeker and other payments saw their incomes cut by $300 a fortnight, it is little surprise that many in the sector sector have lent their voices to calls for a boost to Jobseeker
Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said for months, experts and economists have been telling the government that raising the rate of Jobseeker for good is the best way to boost the economy.
“A permanent boost to JobSeeker will add billions of dollars to the economy and at least 145,000 full-time jobs. The benefits would go straight to the areas that need them most,” she said.
“Whole communities would benefit, including those who have been hit the hardest by the downturn. The flow-on effects would be profound. Every cent would be spent in local communities.”
Chambers said the budget also offered the government the perfect opportunity to invest in social housing.
“Social housing will offer relief for the tens of thousands of people who are homeless in Australia. It also boosts GDP, and creates jobs in construction for the regions that need it most,” she said.
“With the economy reeling in the wake of the coronavirus, we need to invest in projects that are shovel-ready. There is no time to waste. Social housing projects can get off the ground quickly – and they bring long-term benefits.”
National housing and homelessness peak bodies are united in the call for the Commonwealth to create economic stimulus by investing in social housing. The Community Housing Industry Association (CHIA), National Shelter, and Homelessness Australia have urged the government to consider their proposal for a Social Housing Acceleration and Renovation Program.
David Pearson, from the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness, told Pro Bono News they have also been pushing hard for investment in the advance to zero methodology to support existing communities and new communities in their efforts to not just reduce rough sleeping homelessness but to end it.
In its federal pre-budget submission, People With Disability Australia called on the government to improve employment of people with disability in mainstream employment.
It put forward three actions: create a National Jobs Plan; develop a national advertising campaign to tackle discrimination and attitudes toward people with disability at work and increase funding for Job Access to improve access for people with disability at work, and extend accessibility supports to job seekers.
Wearing his UniSA Australian Alliance for Social Enterprise (TAASE) hat, Pearson said he hoped to see some significant investment from the commonwealth in impact investing and a national social enterprise and social procurement strategy.
“Great work has been done on innovation and Indigenious procurement in recent years, it needs to be added to with a focus on these two areas where there are huge opportunities, particularly for job creation and retention in areas that have been hit hard by the all the challenges that 2020 has thrown at us,” he said.
Sally McCutchan OAM, CEO at Impact Investing Australia, said COVID-19 has increased the pressure on the government’s budget and heightened the need to focus on ensuring outcomes are delivered against spending and capital is catalytic in attracting private sector investment.
“Both characteristics of impact investing,” she said.
“If we want to build back better, the government has an important role in supporting impact investing to grow faster. The right market building package which includes a catalytic Impact Investing Wholesaler, is critical to this.”
With research showing that two in three volunteers stopped volunteering during the pandemic, Volunteering Australia has asked the government to support initiatives that safely revive volunteering and encourage volunteering amongst the less vulnerable.
Chief executive officer Mark Pearce said without coordinated action and investment, volunteering will continue to suffer.
“This will have deep consequences for volunteers, organisations that rely on volunteers, and the individuals and communities that they support” he said.
In particular, VA has proposed a Reinvigorating Volunteering Action Plan, a National Youth Volunteering Initiative, and a nationally coordinated emergency management approach to volunteer engagement.
Equality Rights Alliance (ERA), a National Women’s Alliance made up of 64 women’s organisations led by YWCA Australia, is calling on the federal government to #BanBlokeBasedBudgets and apply gender-responsive budgeting.
ERA’s project coordinator Romy Listo said that the budget was fundamental in determining the
day-to-day lives of Australians – but that women, especially diverse women, were too frequently left out of the budgeting process.
“Time and time again, decisions in the budget are made for a mythical, ‘average’ Australian – an Anglo, cis-hetero and able-bodied man, and so fail to account for the needs of the diverse communities across Australia,” Listo said.
She said this budget has the opportunity to address the existing social inequalities that the pandemic has exacerbated – or to deepen them.
ERA and YWCA have also teamed up to create a video for young people, dedicated to explaining the importance of the federal budget.
To find out if the reality lives up to the expectation, visit Pro Bono News later this week, where we will be breaking down what the budget means for the social sector.