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Government support for the not-for-profit community service sector is failing to keep up with increasing demand for services, an alarming report prepared by UNSW Sydney’s Social Policy Research Centre has found.

The Community Sector Survey Report by Dr Natasha Cortis and Dr Megan Blaxland was undertaken late last year, prior to the impact of COVID-19 and the bushfires.

“Our social safety net is vastly inadequate for the current crisis, which will stretch the community sector in unprecedented ways,” Dr Natasha Cortis says.

“Income from private giving and commercial sources falls significantly during economic downturn, and these organisations already operate with low financial reserves.”

The not-for-profit community service sector supports people who are most vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus, including older people, people on low incomes, people with disability and First Nations communities. 

Community services include childcare and aged care; 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 survey report was prepared in collaboration with the Australian and State and Territory Councils of Social Service of Australia and supported by Community Sector Banking.

Key findings of the survey of 1454 community sector workers include:

  • 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

Urgent rescue package needed

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie says ACOSS is calling on the Federal Government to urgently deliver a rescue package so that the community sector can do its important work during the current crisis.

“The community sector is crucial in supporting us all and in particular those most vulnerable to the current health and economic crisis,” Dr Goldie says.

“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. 

Dr Goldie says the Government must also urgently lift Newstart and remove barriers to accessing the 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,” Dr Goldie says.

“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.” 

Dr Megan Blaxland says the community sector does critical preventative work and provides people experiencing disadvantage a last line of support.

“Staff told us they want a compassionate government and society that understands the value of social welfare and properly respects and resources it,” she says.

Andrew Cairns, Chief Executive Officer at Community Sector Banking, Andrew Cairns says 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,” he says. “It would be unwise for the government to ignore the findings of this report.” 

Read the Australian Community Sector Survey.

Read ACOSS’ recommendations to the Government on the COVID19 response, including for the community sector.