23 December 2019
A survey of more than 1400 staff working in community services, including homelessness, financial counselling and mental health services, has found only 5 per cent believed their service was completely able to meet demand.
The findings, released today, are part of the 2019 Australian Community Sector Survey, conducted by the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney in collaboration with Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the Council of Social Service Network, and supported by Community Sector Banking.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie will be available for interview on the findings at 11 am today AEST at the ACOSS office, Level 3, 219-241 Cleveland St, Strawberry Hills, Sydney.
Dr Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, the peak body for the community services sector, said:
“The holiday period is traditionally known as a time for relaxation, socialising and enjoyment. But for people who are experiencing tough times, this time of the year can be the hardest. For people who are on low incomes, facing a relationship breakdown or family crisis, struggling with their mental health, leaving a violent situation, or facing discrimination or homelessness, the festive season can be a particularly worrying and isolating time.
“During this period, many people experiencing disadvantage will turn to charities for help to get by. But the results of our survey show community services already do not have enough resources to keep up with demand.”
The survey, which was completed by 1454 community service sector staff, including 406 organisational leaders, in October 2019, shows:
• Three in five community sector workers (60%) reported an increase in the numbers of clients their service was unable to support during 2019.
• Only 5% said their service was ‘completely’ able to meet demand.
• Staff involved in housing and homelessness, financial counselling, and legal services were most likely to report demand pressures. High levels of unmet need were observed in regional and rural areas.
Respondents’ comments included:
• “Often we are the last line of support so if we can’t provide our services no support is given to our clients. This is particularly so for our remote clients of which we have many.”(Practitioner, NT service)
• “People fall through the cracks and end up in hospitals, homelessness or the justice system. (Manager, ACT service)
• “Distressing for both those who cannot be serviced, and on the staff who feel helpless in the face of demand.” (CEO, NSW service)
• “We refer them to other agencies and cross our fingers.” (Practitioner, WA service)
• “It’s horrendous and heartbreaking! So many people of all ages are being hurt and placed into challenging predicaments. Desperate people tend to do desperate things. Sadly suicide is very high in our region.” (Senior manager, Qld service)
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie continued:
“The survey was conducted before the bushfires and heatwaves hit communities all over Australia even harder. Community services will be under intense pressure, facing devastation themselves, and often at the front line, helping people through terrible crisis and loss, as well as the long road to recovery.
“Without being able to access the support of community services , people can be left to homelessness, poverty, debt, family violence or escalating legal problems.
“It’s not right that in Australia, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, vulnerable people are going without the help they desperately need. In times of need, everyone should be able to rely on the crucial assistance offered by our hard-working community services.
“We’re calling on the federal, state and territory governments to work together to properly resource community services. It’s clear that the community service sector needs more funding and we’re recommending a $2 billion replenishment from the federal government, following years of funding cuts.
“An injection of $2 billion would help create great jobs all over the country including in regional areas, with local people being paid to provide the help and support their communities so desperately need. The funds would go into the hands of local economies, and help support wages, as well as opening the doors to vital services in local areas,” Dr Goldie said.