Community sector unable to keep up with demand for services:  ACOSS Report

15 August 2011

More people have been turning to community and social services groups for help, leaving services unable to meet the growing demand, according to the ACOSS Australian Community Sector Survey 2011 released today.

The survey provides the most comprehensive picture of how the non-government community services and welfare sector is travelling, and this year shows a 12% increase in assistance provided by agencies. Respondent organisations (745) provided services on 6,180,282 occasions in 2009-10 compared to 5,513,780 instances in 2008-09.

Despite the overall increase in services delivered, the majority of organisations (55%) indicated that they were still unable to meet the demand for their services. People were denied services on approximately 345,000 occasions, equating to more than 1 in 20 eligible people seeking social services being turned away. This represents a 19% increase on the 298,000 people turned away in 2008-09.

“These findings highlight the disconnect between the perception that Australia has fully recovered from the Global Financial Crisis and that most people are doing fine, with the stark reality that a growing group of people in Australia are simply not doing well,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“The increasing number of people turning to the community welfare sector reflects the steep lag effects of the GFC, suggesting that the benefits of economic recovery have been unevenly distributed. It also reflects the gross inadequacy of basic social security payments, particularly for those who are not in paid work and the growing cost of living pressures more people are under, especially to keep an affordable roof over their head.

“This is borne out in the survey with nearly 50,000 instances in which people were turned away from homelessness and housing services, which equates to a total of 135 people turned away from these services on any given day in 2009-10 (22% increase on 2008-09).

“This is a worrying picture. It highlights the urgent need for sustained action to ensure people can have at least adequate income support and assistance to tackle the roots of disadvantage, as well as support for the vital sector that is crucial to supporting people and preventing further disadvantage.

“Our survey shows this growing need for help is placing enormous strain on community services with almost all services experiencing heightened demand stating that funding levels have not kept pace with the increase in demand.

“ACOSS welcomed the Federal Government’s stimulus package following the GFC which went some way to alleviate the extra strain on people on the lowest incomes. We have also praised Commonwealth moves to remove red tape for the non-profit sector and its support for the continual viability of this crucial sector. However this latest survey is an urgent reminder of the reforms that are needed to achieve greater equality and fairness for us all.” Dr Goldie said.

Key Findings – Australian Community Sector Survey

Services experiencing the greatest increase in demand:
• Residential aged care – 128% increase
• Financial Support Services – 50% increase
• Emergency Relief – 22% increase
• Support Services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people- 22%
• Housing/homelessness services – 21%

“This rapid growth in the volume of services delivered has significant implications in terms of organisational and overall sector capacity. Without a commensurate increase in the level of funds available and the number of staff required to deliver services, organisations may be subject to significant pressures, stretching the existing workforce and organisational resources to levels that are unsustainable.” (page 28. ACSS).

Services that people were turned away from in the highest numbers were:
(Total no. of times eligible people were turned away from specific areas of service)
• Housing/homelessness services (50,000 instances of clients turned away, which represented a 22% increase on previous year)
• Mental health services (33,444) -11% (37,571 turnaways in 2008-09)
• Emergency relief (30,333) 49% increase
• Youth services (21,862) 32% increase
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services (20,516) 34% increase

Areas of unmet Need
(Organisations were asked to indicate the level of unmet need among their service users for supports and services that they as an organisation did not provide)
• Mental health – 89% of organisations identified as an area of high or medium need
• Homelessness and housing – 87% identified as an area of high or medium need
• Family and relationship services – 82% identified as an area of high or medium need
• General health – 82% identified as an area of high or medium need
• Emergency relief – 78% identified as an area of high or medium need
• Employment and training – 78% identified as an area of high or medium need

Profile of Service Users
Age – People aged 15-24 were overrepresented in service usage
• Homelessness & housing services – 34% of all clients were aged 15-24
• Family & relationship services – 21% of all clients were aged 15-24
• Domestic violence & sexual assault – 21% of all clients were aged 15-24
• Emergency relief – 21% of all clients were aged 15-24

Sole Parents – disproportionately high users of social services
• Represent 28% of service users despite making up only 4% of the general population
• Most pronounced in domestic violence & sexual assault – 59%
• Family % relationship services – 43%;
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services – 40%
• Emergency relief – 39%; Housing & homelessness – 35%

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – Across all services they accounted for 16% of clients, more than six times their actual representation in the Australian population.
• Most pronounced in Indigenous support services – 85%
• Alcohol & other drugs support – 44%
• Domestic violence & sexual assault – 28% & Housing & homelessness – 19%

People looking for paid work – almost half of all people seeking help were not in paid work – 48%

(note: most services did not record clients undertaking some amount of paid work as ‘out of work’.)
• These people were mostly long-term unemployed
• 71% of people seeking housing & homeless assistance were not in paid work
• 67% seeking domestic violence % sexual assault services were not in paid work
• 56% of those seeking youth services were not in paid work
• 61% of people seeking mental health services were not in paid work
• 51% seeking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support services were not in paid work
• 28% of those not in paid work were on Disability Support Pension
• 23% of those not in paid work were on Parenting Payments
• 19% of those not in paid work were on Newstart Allowance.

Factors contributing to financial stress
(Financial stresses experienced by emergency relief & financial support service clients)
• Inadequate income support payments – 56%
• Lack of affordable housing – 42%
• Long-term unemployed – 34%
• Disability and/or mental illness – 32%
• Rising cost of household utilities – 25%

About the survey
The Australian Community Sector Survey 2011 (ACSS) presents the findings of ACOSS’ annual survey of community services across Australia. The survey was conducted throughout November-December 2010 and covers the period from 1 July 2009 – 30 June 2010. A total of 745 agencies completed the survey, responding on issues relating to service provision, income and expenditure, operational, policy, and workforce issues for the community services sector. The ACSS is the only annual national survey collecting data about the non-government, non-profit community services and welfare sector. This sector is a major provider of the community services that most of us rely on at some point in our lives, but which are particularly important to people on low incomes.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas – 0419 626 155
(For interviews with authors of the ACSS report, agencies and case studies)