What does the social sector want to see in this year’s budget?
10 May 2021 at 6:53 pm
We take a look at the social sector’s wishlist for the 2021 federal budget
It’s only been seven months since the Morrison government delivered the 2020 federal budget, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This budget was touted as the most important federal budget since the second world war, and included accelerated tax cuts, cash splashes for pensioners, big incentives for business and a $4 billion JobMaker program.
But this budget was not well received by the social sector, with advocates arguing it fell “drastically short for Australians doing it tough”.
Will this year be any better for the sector?
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has already labelled the 2021 budget as a “jobs budget” amid the nation’s ongoing economic recovery from the pandemic.
There have been some announcements in the lead up that will benefit the sector, including doubling domestic violence prevention funding to at least $680 million and a commitment to guarantee equal pay funding for homelessness services.
But what else will the social sector be looking for in this year’s budget? We take a look.
Social Ventures Australia CEO Suzie Riddell told Pro Bono News that SVA hoped the federal government would seize the opportunities created by the events of the past year.
“Through the COVID-19 crisis and initial recovery phase, we have learned a lot about our society – from the life-changing effect of appropriate rates of income support, to the vital role charities play in supporting communities and delivering key services,” Riddell said.
“We hope that this budget will use what we have learned to inform bold decisions for our future, rather than revert to pre-COVID policies.”
Riddell said she would also like to see the government provide meaningful support for the charity sector as a whole.
“Charities are an economic and social powerhouse. We commend government for the efforts to include charities in the JobKeeper scheme last year,” she said.
“Yet many other support measures have only been available to commercial businesses. Charities need help to continue to support Australia to thrive.”
After years of campaigning to increase the rate of JobSeeker (formerly Newstart), the federal government finally agreed in February to permanently raise the payment by $25 a week to $44 a day.
But this $3.57 a day increase to the rate was slammed by the social sector, especially given that the government was able to temporarily boost the payment by $40 a day last year through the coronavirus supplement.
While advocates know further increases to welfare payments are unlikely, they are calling for the JobSeeker and other payment rates to be lifted above the poverty line – which is around $65 a day.
Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said action was desperately needed in this year’s budget.
“We need to lift JobSeeker and other payments above the poverty line. If we don’t, people out of work will be pushed deeper into housing stress and even homelessness,” Chambers said.
The federal government has made several housing policy commitments, including a five per cent deposit scheme for 10,000 first-home buyers, and a plan allowing single parents with dependent children to buy a home with a 2 per cent deposit.
But homelessness advocates are calling for the federal government to also include a commitment to social housing in the budget.
Everybody’s Home campaign spokesperson Kate Colvin said the budget was a crucial moment for the nation.
She said there was no better public investment than social and affordable housing.
“We have a rapidly accelerating homelessness problem. This budget must fire the starter’s gun on building half a million new social and affordable rental homes across Australia,” Colvin said.
“The government has a chance to take real action in the budget. If it seizes the opportunity, hundreds of thousands of Australians will be better placed to rebuild their lives and look after their families.”
Homelessness groups have already received welcomed news on the eve of the budget, with the federal government pledging to extend a funding deal that allows workers in the female-dominated social sector to receive fair pay.
Not receiving this funding would have meant a cut of $56.7 million to services, or 567 fewer frontline workers.
David Pearson, the CEO of the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness, said advocates were also keen for greater investment in supportive housing for people with experiences of chronic homelessness and multiple health conditions.
He told Pro Bono News national leadership was needed.
“There continues to be a need for a national COVID and homelessness response from the Commonwealth to address the health inequities that people experiencing homelessness face,” Pearson said.
“The pandemic has taught us that homelessness is as much a health issue as it is a housing issue.
“I think that the time for action, investment and implementation has well and truly arrived in human services at a Commonwealth level.”
Disability groups will keep a close eye on what the budget will include for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds has already signalled that funding for the scheme will be topped up in Tuesday’s budget, but she said the government was concerned by the long-term sustainability of the current funding model.
People with Disability Australia (PWDA) has released a list of asks for this year’s budget, with a focus on measures that will help the nation meet its responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.
The advocacy group said the government’s independent assessments trial must be halted and replaced with an “independent robust, transparent evaluation” of the controversial reform.
PWDA is also calling for funding to help develop a national plan to desegregate workplaces, schools and other disability-specific congregate environments, extend the disability royal commission by 17 months, and support advocacy organisations across the country.
President Samantha Connor said widespread improvements to many disability policy areas were urgently required, but must be developed in consultation with people with disability.
“Over the past six months, the National Disability Insurance Agency has been trying to ram through changes to the NDIS that were designed without meaningful input from disabled people and which will almost certainly result in perverse outcomes,” Connor said.
“We need a seat at the table to talk about any proposed changes to our NDIS, to have full access to the scheme’s raw data, to enter into legitimate co-design processes if any changes are required and to be sufficiently resourced in order to do so.”
Last year’s budget included a $305 million boost to help Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste deal with the impacts of COVID-19.
But this one-off funding package did not technically count as foreign aid. It left Australia’s Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) contribution sitting at $4 billion, which is just 0.21 per cent of the country’s Gross National Income, the smallest it’s ever been.
The Australian Council For International Development (ACFID) is this year calling for Australia to increase its global contribution to tackling the pandemic and strengthening health systems in the Indo-Pacific.
It also wants the government to offer support to civil society organisations so they can counteract a closing civic space in increasingly authoritarian nations.
From a financial perspective, ACFID has made several funding recommendations in its budget submission, including:
- an additional $1 billion over four years to strengthen health systems in the Indo-Pacific;
- an additional $1.54 billion over four years to meet Australia’s fair share of global humanitarian finance in 2021 and beyond;
- an additional $19 million over four years to restore DFAT’s Central Disability Fund to $14.4 million a year; and
- an additional $250 million over four years for existing high impact programs which support the NGOs and civil society organisations.
Volunteering Australia has written a wish list for this year’s federal budget to help revive volunteering in the community.
This includes a $5 million annual investment for a Reinvigorating Volunteering Action Plan, plus a further $11 million a year to return Volunteer Grants to their 2010 levels.
The action plan would contain better insurance protection for volunteers in a COVID-19 environment, and a “good to volunteer” communications campaign that explains how volunteering can be safely undertaken during the pandemic.
The peak body would also like to see a $10 million investment to create a National Youth Volunteering Initiative.
This initiative would aim to provide meaningful volunteer opportunities for young unemployed people – targeting those at particularly high risk of long-term unemployment or who are from disadvantaged groups and areas.
Impact Investing Australia is seeking government support to invest in sector building infrastructure, such as a $200 million impact investment wholesaler and a $40 million social enterprise growth fund.
This infrastructure is designed to mobilise private capital to impact investments and promote jobs growth in areas that align with better social and environmental outcomes.
Acting CEO Sabina Curatolo told Pro Bono News IIA was also keen to see budget funding commitments to create an Office of Impact Investment within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and $5 million for an independent Impact Investment Institute.
“By committing to catalyst market building measures Australia’s impact investing market can scale and help drive a positive and inclusive economic recovery post COVID,” Curatolo said.
“Social impact investing can benefit government and taxpayers by reducing costs and improving social outcomes. We are calling for a partnership model that brings funding and expertise from across the business and philanthropic sectors.”
Suzie Riddell said SVA would also like to see a government response to the report of the Prime Minister’s Social Impact Investing Taskforce.
“Social impact investing can only fulfil its economic and social potential with the right government stewardship,” she said.
The Social Enterprise Network Victoria (SENVIC) is hoping the federal budget will recognise the burgeoning impact economy and provide targeted investment into the social enterprise sector.
SENVIC CEO Nicholas Verginis told Pro Bono News social enterprise was an essential part of Australia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem that helps government achieve its social and economic aims.
“Social enterprise is the ideal business model to rebuild communities, drive economic recovery and create a fair, sustainable and inclusive economy,” Verginis said.
“We hope to see targeted investment and enabling policies that support the social enterprise sector to multiply our impact, create inclusive prosperity and a sustainable future.”
To find out if the reality lives up to the expectation, visit Pro Bono News on Wednesday, where we will be breaking down what the budget means for the social sector.
We are also hosting a webinar on Thursday, where a panel of experts from the community and social welfare sectors will dissect the budget and its impact on the social sector.