Community services :  A crucial lifeline for Australians in the downturn

Community and welfare organisations provided crucial support to keep struggling Australians afloat during the financial crisis, reports ACOSS’ Australian Community Sector Survey 2010.

Surveyed organisations provided services to Australians on 4.3 million occasions in 2008-09, an increase of 4% on the previous year.

Young people, sole parents and Indigenous Australians were among the groups with the highest need for services. There were over half a million requests for help from people needing youth employment and youth welfare services during the year.

“Community services were a vital lifeline for low income Australians during the economic downturn,” said Clare Martin, CEO, Australian Council of Social Service.

“The survey reflects the pressure points in the community during the economic downturn. People were assisted with essential services such as finding a bed for the night, emergency cash to pay bills, disability support services and mental health counselling.

“Agencies are reporting they are struggling to meet the rising demand for services and are forced to turn people away.

“With long-term unemployment still rising and high youth employment, the pressure on organisations to meet this high level of demand will only escalate.

“It is very concerning the most disadvantaged people in our communities are not able to access help when they need it.

“Particular groups are more likely to need help. Although people on parenting payment single make up less than 2% of the population, they account for 26% of service users, indicating income support payments are not adequate for sole parents to make ends meet.”

“Indigenous people are 6.5 times more likely to access community and welfare services than the representation in the general community would suggest.”

Key Findings – Australian Community Sector Survey

Services experiencing the greatest increase in demand:

  • Housing/homelessness services (13% increase on the previous year)
  • Family services (12% increase)
  • Employment/training services (11% increase)
  • Health services (11% increase)

Services that people were turned away from in the highest numbers were:

  • Youth service and youth welfare services – 115,685 instances
  • Financial and material support – 92,862 instances
  • Housing/homelessness services – 15,897 instances
  • Legal services & advocacy – 12,765 instances

Community sector workforce

  • Employment in the community sector rose by 8% (full-time equivalent staff).
  • Low wages make finding and retaining staff more difficult, with 71% of respondents reporting this as a key difficulty in hiring staff.
  • Employees in community services were predominantly female (87%).
  • 80% respondents disagreed with the statement that government funding covers the true cost of delivering contracted services.

About the survey

The Australian Community Sector Survey is the only annual survey providing an overview of the non-profit community services and welfare sector. Respondent organisations included community and welfare organisations from the membership of ACOSS and the State and Territory Councils of Social Service.

The report provides information on service use, income, expenditure and workforce issues for the community services and welfare sector. The 2010 survey covers the financial year 2008-09 and had 582 survey respondents.

Read the Australian Community Sector Survey 2010.

Media Contact: Clare Cameron, ACOSS – 0419 626 155