ACOSS calls on Commonwealth to end funding uncertainty over services

4 March 2014

Amid growing budget speculation, the Australian Council of Social Service has today called on the Federal Government to end uncertainty about the future of key community services.

In a supplementary submission to the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit, ACOSS has highlighted it’s concern that many services are now being caught up in budget speculation, with no certainty about where the government plans to make cuts in the May Budget.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said: “Services for people who are homeless, women and their children leaving violent situations, at risk young people disengaged from training and employment, and people in financial crisis are all up in the air.”

“Funding for these programs is only secure until 30 June. Government departments have been unable to confirm the future of these services, including under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, the Youth Connections program and funding for financial services are all affected.

“Other vital community programs have already been cut, or are clearly in the firing line, including funding for the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA), Aboriginal Legal Services, legal aid and community legal services, and community programs for people from diverse cultural backgrounds. The recent open letter calling for funding to be restored to ADCA, signed by ten highly respected Australians, shows the level of growing community concern, ” Dr Goldie said.

“The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) supports adults and their children who are homeless. Whilst accurate figures aren’t available, Mission Australia has estimated that about 180 services, 80 000 clients and over 3000 staff are covered under the NPAH.

“It would be extraordinary to pull the rug out from under these services when the Treasurer has promised that government funding will be targeted to those most in need.

“It would also be crushing for young people who can’t get a job if their support programs were cut, when they should be expanded. The latest figures show youth unemployment is twice the general unemployment rate (12.2%) and as high as 20% among 15-24 year olds in some parts of the country. Programs such as Youth Connections have helped many thousands of young people who had disengaged or were at risk of disengaging from education or employment. The program has achieved excellent results in an increasingly tough job market. Nationally, 67 organisations deliver Youth Connections over 113 service regions, assisting over 70,000 young people.

“The ongoing uncertainty is having a serious impact across the country, with service management unable to plan, and staff increasingly anxious. Valued workers are under pressure to start looking for new jobs, with many not knowing if they will be employed in just a few months. Whilst we can’t establish the exact number of clients and staff who are affected, it is clearly in the thousands.

“Services are increasingly alarmed that the government may use the expiration of funding contracts on 30 June to deliver budget savings. Whether this is intended or not is unknown. However, in the absence of new contracts being put in place, services are understandably concerned.

“We agree we have a budget challenge, and have supported a responsible audit of government expenditure. However, we need to be looking for savings amongst the tax breaks, loopholes, rebates and payments which benefit people who already have significant income and assets: superannuation, discretionary trusts, private health rebates, the assets tests for the age pension, negative gearing and capital gains, as well as generous supplements and concessions to people already enjoying a well above average standard of living.

“Services and payments to support vulnerable and low income people should not be in the firing line in search of a budget surplus.

“This was the previous government’s mistake, one that Labor’s leadership now regrets in Opposition. Over 100 000 single parents and their children suffered the consequences, and are still waiting over a year later, for something to be done. Let us not make the same mistake again. The funds needed for these vital services are modest, and will save us far more in the future.

“The Government must put an end to all this uncertainty and urgently signal its ongoing commitment to funding,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Enquiries: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Download ACOSS Additional Submission to the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit

Also see ACOSS Commission of Audit submission and key recommendations here.