80% of Australia’s community services unable to meet demand: ACOSS report

The largest survey of Australia’s community services sector to be released today, reveals that 80% of frontline agencies are unable to meet current levels of demand with the resources they have. The biggest gaps in meeting demand are in the areas of greatest community need.

The survey of almost 1,000 community service workers from around the country shows that 43% of services are simply unable to meet the needs of people coming to them for help. A further 37% can ‘almost’ meet demand. Only 20% reported being able to meet demand fully.

“From the coalface of community work, our findings are deeply concerning and should ring alarm bells for Federal Government policies that would inflict deeper pain on the people doing it toughest in our community,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“As a society we simply cannot accept policies that will further erode the living conditions of people on the lowest incomes, or reduce the social services that are their lifeline.

“We are particularly perturbed about the state of our nation’s community legal and accommodation services, which have reported great difficulty meeting demand: 72% and 51% respectively are unable to meet demand. Yet, despite the urgent need for these services in our community, they have been subjected to Federal funding cuts and ongoing funding uncertainty.

“Services reported they would need to increase capacity substantially to meet current demand levels in these and other vital areas of need.

“We are troubled by the plight of both young and older people not in paid work and of single parents, with community service workers reporting a noticeable deterioration in their quality of life and levels of stress in the past year. 50% of on-the-ground community workers said that quality of life was ‘a lot worse’ for young unemployed people and 56% perceived that life for sole parents was more stressful.

“Life for both young and older unemployed people has become more stressful over the past 12 months and community workers identified employment and affordable housing as top policy priority issues that urgently need to be addressed.

“More than anything these findings highlight the need to bring to an end the current climate of uncertainty, both in funding for crucial services and for vulnerable groups in our community.

“The Federal Government needs to go back to the drawing board on some of its deeply unfair Budget measures, including significant funding cuts for social and community service programmes, and proposals such as removing payments for young unemployed people for six months of each year. This was the strong recommendation of a Senate Reference Committee last week, which found that the harsh approach of the Budget will push more people into poverty and disadvantage.

“The government must abandon other damaging measures which threaten to make the situation worse for people and families on low incomes, including restricting access to Newstart to over 25s; freezing family payments; lowering indexation of pensions; further targeting of people on disability support pension; and introducing a $7 GP co-payment.

“Already 2.5 million people are living below the poverty line in Australia, including 603,000 children. Now is the time for us to work together as a community to turn this picture around. Australia’s community welfare sector, which contributes 5% to our nation’s GDP and employers nearly one million people, is working hard to meet this challenge.

“We urge governments at all levels to work with us in the pursuit of evidence-based policies that will be effective, not ones based on short term budgetary imperatives that will cost us more as a community in the longer term,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155



Key Findings

How people are faring
Our survey finds that the lives of people living on low incomes have become increasingly difficult and stressful over the past year.
• 49% of sector staff reported quality of life to be ‘a lot worse’ for people on low incomes.
• 50% of sector staff reported quality of life to be ‘a lot worse’ for young unemployed people.
• 56% of sector staff reported that life for sole parents is more stressful.
• 54% of sector staff reported that life is more stressful for young unemployed people.
• 52% of sector staff reported that life is more stressful for older unemployed people.
Demand for services

Across the community sector, services are struggling to meet demand.
• Overall, 80% of sector services reported being unable to fully meet demand.
• 43% of sector services reported being unable to meet demand.
• 37% of sector services reported being able to almost fully meet demand.
• Only 20% of sector services reported being fully able to meet demand.
Services that prioritise people on low incomes or with specific needs are least able to meet demand.
• 49% reported being unable to meet demand.
• Only 12% reported being fully able to meet demand.

The largest service gaps are in areas of greatest need.
The data on capacity to meet demand suggests the largest service gaps exist in areas of the greatest need: among services working most closely with those on the lowest incomes and with the highest levels of need in their communities.

Community legal and accommodation services reported great difficulty meeting demand.
• 72% of legal services are unable to meet demand.
• 51% of accommodation services are unable to meet demand.

Services not able to meet demand need to increase capacity substantially to meet demand.
• 33% of services would need to increase capacity by 11-25% to meet demand.
• 30% of services would need to increase capacity by 26-50% to meet demand.
• 25% of services would need to increase capacity by 51-200% or more in order to meet demand.

Community priorities
Sector staff identified investment in affordable housing as the highest priority for benefitting the community as a whole, followed by employment, education and skills development, health and income support.

• Employment was the top priority identified for young unemployed people, followed by education and skills development, affordable housing and income support.
• Affordable housing was the top priority identified for sole parents, followed by income support, education and skill development and employment.

Affordable housing was also the top priority identified for older unemployed people, followed by income support, health and social connections and social capital.

Policy priorities identified include:
• Reducing cost of living pressures for people on low incomes;
• Maintaining state and local government concessions;
• Increasing income support; and
• Expanding training programs for people experiencing long-term unemployment.

Service prioritiesSector staff identified increased investment in housing and homelessness services as delivering the greatest benefit to people on low incomes, followed by mental health services and services for vulnerable families and children.

Australia’s Community Sector
Australia’s community welfare sector makes an enormous contribution to Australian society, contributing 5% to GDP and 8% to employment annually. It employs 919,000 people and a further two million volunteers.