Social and support sectors react with disappointment to federal budget

SBS News, 15 May 2024

They say this is a budget that falls short of providing what the most vulnerable people in the community need.

Social services providers say the budget is problematic.

They are welcoming some measures, but say the funding allocations are, ultimately, a missed opportunity.

Chief Executive of the Australian Council of Social Services, Cassandra Goldie, says the budget failed to deliver the solutions needed.

 "There was a diagnosis of the problems we face, a housing crisis, a climate crisis, a cost of living crisis, an inflation challenge, a slowing economy and rising unemployment. But in our collective view and certainly the view of ACOSS, we did not get the solutions that were the right ones for the scale of the challenges that we face. There is indeed a gaping hole in the heart of this budget."

The Australian Council of Social Service [[ACOSS]] says the modest Commonwealth Rent Assistance increase will still leave private renters on JobSeeker or Youth Allowance paying more than half of their income on rent.

Jennifer Kirkaldy from the Salvation Army Australia says when things are this bad, the charity sector welcomes any assistance.

She also says that not enough has been done to support those in need.

"Every day the Salvation Army works with people on Job Seeker and Youth Allowance who cannot afford the essentials. They cannot afford their rent and utilities. They certainly cannot afford what it takes to look for a job or study. The current rate of job seeker is less than $55 a day, Youth Allowance is even lower. And when you have less than $55 a day, it doesn't matter how careful or frugal you are. An individual cannot budget away poverty. But the government could have."

Chief Executive of Single Mother Families Australia, Terese Edwards, says better income support is needed to protect women experiencing violence at home.

"So what we have now is women who delay leaving because it's too unsafe or they can't afford it, or they know what will happen. We have one in five women returned to their place of abuse and to the hands of their abuser because of inadequate income support. We know that financial security equates to safety, and it's for the mother and the children."

Also feeling the strain of cost-of-living pressures are Aged Care workers, who say the budget decision to postpone wage increases for the sector means more staff will be forced to leave.

Assistant Secretary of the Health Services Union, Lauren Hutchins, says aged care workers are disappointed and tired.

"We have workers who rightly expected that they would have pay increases from the first of July this year. And there has no money that's been set aside. In March this year the Fair Work Commission determined that aged care workers had been historically undervalued in the work that they've been doing. Wage increases were awarded by the Fair Work Commission's to properly value their work. Unfortunately, the government has made a decision to actually walk away from that commitment that puts huge stress on the sector that is still looking for workers, it puts huge stress on the workforce that is still low paid, despite these wage increases. All we're asking for is the government to stand by it selection commitment of fully funding and supporting aged care workers. "

Aged care worker Karen says it was a difficult night for her and her colleagues.

"It's going to ruin us. I'm in a private facility and we're finding it really, really hard to get people to come in and work now, let alone being told no, you're not going to get the pay increase. You know it's been delayed till 2026 and that's just ridiculous it's hurting everybody that works in aged care."

The National Disability Service [[N-D-S]] says the budget was a missed opportunity for the government to support quality services and much needed confidence to the sector.

The N-D-S says the lack of targeted measures and much needed sector transformations is extremely disappointing.

Chief Executive of the N-D-S, Laurie Leigh, says the budget failed in providing the sector what they hoped to see.

"We were hoping to see some additional support for the sector for reform, a sector transformation fund, we were hoping to see some measures for workforce and workforce development. We were hoping to see clear signals around pricing for services which is inadequate at the moment so we really genuinely feel that the things that are needed to assist the sector to deal with the level of reform that the government is wanting."

Ms Leigh says the sector is now calling on the government to provide a road map for the future of the sector.

"So we're really calling on the government to develop a road map to reform, which gives providers, people with disability, and governments and other stakeholders the certainty that we all need to be able to plan for the future."

Sophie Cusworth from Women with Disabilities shares the concerns of the N-D-S.

Although, she also says there are several welcome measures in the budget.

"We're encouraged by government's commitment to an NDIS that continues to grow to meet the needs of our community. No one is more invested in sustainability and future of the NDIS than people with disability. We look forward to co designing the necessary changes with the agency and ensuring that reforms are led by people with disability including those most marginalised. We welcome the investment in the reform of disability employment services, but this is only the start of what is needed to respond to the Disability Royal Commission."

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher says this budget is a focused on getting the N-D-I-S back on track.

"We want the NDIS to be successful, we want people to get the right support, we want the system to work better for everybody, but it cannot keep growing at the way it is currently growing, because it will squeeze out a whole range of other supports that people rely on eventually. So this budget is an important one for the NDIS, a lot of work going on about how the scheme operates and all the rest of it. But how we manage basically plan inflation is a key to getting the NDIS back on track."

Also concerned about the budget's implications on sector staff is the Australian Education Union, who say this budget fails to deliver for public schools.

The A-E-U says the budget has failed to increase the Commonwealth share of the Schooling Resource Standard to 25 per cent, despite widespread support from state and territory governments as well as staff in the sector.

Federal President of the A-E-U, Correna Haythorpe, says the government must deliver on its commitments.

"The reality for our members on the ground is that they are working in a system that is starved for the resources that it needs to teach the children of Australia. So what does that mean for our members. We've got escalating workloads we have chronic teacher shortages, and we have students who have increasingly complex needs, who are denied the funding by governments to address those needs. That's creating a workforce shortage, it's creating additional pressure for our members, and it's time that this is resolved."

She says the government needs to change the way it thinks about the costs of education.

"Rather than dealing with this in terms of cost to the federal budget, let's talk about investing. Governments always talk about the cost of education, but we're far more interested in the economic investment not only in the future of our nation, but the investment in every child's right to have a high quality education and an investment in our members, teachers and education support staff right to be taking up decent work with not chronic escalating workloads and the resources that they need to provide that high quality education for every child."