As impact of coronavirus grows, survey shows vital community services sinking with demand

Government support for the not-for-profit community service sector is failing to keep up with demand for services, allow advocacy and foster collaboration finds the Australian Community Service Sector, released today, as the impact of the coronavirus on the sector rapidly unfolds.

The not-for-profit community service sector provides services we all rely on, both during crisis, and over our lifetimes. Community services include childcare and aged care; as well as support for people in times of great need, such as when they’re escaping domestic violence, facing homelessness or struggling to feed their families.

The community sector supports people who could be most impacted by the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus, including older people, people on low incomes, people with disability and First Nations communities.

The Community Sector Survey report was prepared by the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney in collaboration with the Australian and State and Territory Councils of Social Service of Australia, supported by Community Sector Banking.

Key findings of the survey of 1454 community sector workers, undertaken late last year, included:

  • Two thirds reported that poverty and disadvantage increased among the people accessing their services in 2019
  • 82% reported demand in the community either ‘increased’ (50%) or ‘increased significantly’ (a further 32%) in 2019
  • More than 40% of organisational leaders said they need to be cautious about engaging in systemic advocacy because of their funding arrangements
  • 60% observed increased competition for funding, with less than 1% reporting that it decreased.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie, said:

“The community sector is crucial in supporting us all and in particular those most vulnerable to the current health and economic crisis. Our survey, which was carried out before the coronavirus outbreak and the bushfires, shows the sector was already struggling to keep up with demand, with rising unemployment, stagnant income support payments and sky-high housing costs.

“So that the community sector can do its important work throughout the current crisis, we’re calling on the Federal Government to urgently deliver a rescue package. The rescue package needs to firstly extend all business related stimulus measures to the community sector and other not for profit organisations, and also establish a dedicated fund so that community services can prevent jobs losses and extend services to respond to this crisis.

“In the face of severe downturn, the Government must also urgently lift Newstart, and remove barriers to accessing our social security safety net. Newstart has not been increased in real terms in 26 years and we know that $40 a day is simply not enough for anyone to get by at any time, but especially in the current crisis and as the economy rebuilds.

“We’re also calling on the Government to introduce a range of measures to secure housing for everyone, in light of growing risks of large scale evictions. For example, it is critical that the Federal Government provide funding to housing and homelessness services so that they can guarantee access to at least provide temporary accommodation immediately for people sleeping rough or in overcrowded housing.”

Andrew Cairns, Chief Executive Officer at Community Sector Banking, said:
“The key findings confirm what we already know: the sector is facing enormous challenges with both funding support and service delivery. So many not-for-profit and community-based organisations are being asked to do more for less whilst government support continues to dwindle even while demand for critical services continues to rise. It would be unwise for the government to ignore the findings of this report.”


ACOSS is calling on the Government to support the community sector to respond to the COVID-19 health, social and economic crisis. Specifically the Federal Government should:

  1. Extend all business related stimulus measures to community sector and not for profit organisations. 
  2. Create a Community Sector Industry Rescue Fund to ensure continuity of service delivery, secure jobs, guaranteed paid special leave for all workers, and to enable ramp up of services for people in need.
  3. Urgently respond to the specific asks of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisations. 
  4. Urgently provide program level funding to community services that rely on individual funding arrangements to stabilise workforce and allow for adaptation e.g. child care, employment and other services, out of home care, NDIS.
  5. Commit to restore funding for the Equal Remuneration Order implementation.
  6. Provide additional funding to housing and homelessness services to purchase suitable safe housing for people who are living in rooming houses, in overcrowded housing, or who are sleeping rough.
  7. Guarantee access to Personal Protected Equipment and other essential supplies including Food Supplies to ensure basic needs are met.
  8. Create maximum flexibility on contract requirements for government-funded organisations to enable responsiveness to changing community needs and crisis, for example:
    • ​​​​​​​Delay or relax reporting obligations;
    • Freeze government reform and new tendering processes;
    • Suspend KPIs and outcomes to allow for adaption to new conditions;
    • Remove penalties for non-compliance with contracts arising from COVID-19 Emergency.