Queues for help, waitlists and nowhere to sleep – study shows the reality of two-speed COVID recovery

27 April 2021

Community sector leaders have reported a surge in unmet demand for services dealing with economic hardship, homelessness, mental health and domestic violence as a result of under-funding, in research conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney.

Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie said:

“Community services are doing all they can to help people reaching out in desperate need but sadly they can just not keep up with demand with the resources they have. They’re having to turn away women escaping domestic violence and people with nowhere to sleep that night.

“They’re reporting ‘queues out the door’, including of international students who’ve been left without access to income support during a global pandemic. When the research took place at the start of the year, service leaders said they were bracing for a ‘tsunami’ of need, with income support cuts already taking place and the end of JobKeeper about to occur. Many service providers are now telling us that these grim predictions are being borne out, with almost 3 million people, including about 1 million children having been plunged into deeper poverty at the end of March 2021.

“The reality is that we’re seeing a two-speed COVID recovery with millions being left behind in unemployment or underemployment, while those in well-paid jobs enjoy generous tax cuts.

“The report highlights the deep need for income support payments like JobSeeker to be lifted above the poverty line. We also need to see improvements to the domestic violence crisis payment and Rent Assistance, as well as investment in social housing.”

We must also adequately fund our vital community services (of which over 80% are female workers) and addressing the imminent funding cut for homelessness services created by the end of the equal remuneration supplementation. With many services struggling to meet the increasing demand, the upcoming Federal Budget must ensure that the community sector is properly equipped to do its crucial work helping others. The Government must invest in quality community services we can all rely on, generate decent jobs in the care sector and deliver on equal pay for all community sector workers. It must set us up to better meet the challenges of COVID and natural disasters by funding partnership approaches to health promotion and education, and local community resilience hubs.

“The Federal Government must address these urgent issues in the upcoming Federal Budget, not leave people behind in ongoing crisis,” Dr Goldie said.

The report was supported through a partnership with Bendigo Bank, whose commitment to strong communities has seen over $251 million invested in local communities since 1998.

Key quotes from sector leaders included:

“There is an epidemic (of family violence) but there’s also a failure of funding as well. So we have massive waitlists and we’re telling people who’ve finally arrived at the moment where they want to get support … that they may need to wait six to seven months.” – Large health service.

“Obviously, we’re all bracing ourselves for what’s going to happen when the moratorium (on evictions) is finished … it is a fairly scary time for people and not just the people we’re usually working with, but an increase in people that are at risk in higher income brackets… Unless social housing and different housing models can come on board, there’s not a lot a person can do if there’s nowhere to put someone.”  – Housing and homelessness service.

“People are presenting as homeless, like doubling up with people, living in cars, staying in tents … a terrible thing to say to people in a very wealthy country, that you will be homeless and we don’t have an immediate resolution to your problem.”  – Regional housing and homelessness service.

Read the report at: https://www.acoss.org.au/australian-community-sector-survey/