Community services, including disability, family violence and homelessness organisations, are at breaking point and facing a staffing crisis due to years of inadequate government funding, new research shows.
The report At the Precipice: Australia's Community Sector through the Cost-of-living Crisis found only only 9 percent of leaders agreed that funding covers the full cost of service delivery while 47 per cent of leaders said staff turnover is too high.
Demand for community services has soared following bushfires, Covid-19 and the ongoing cost of living crisis, which is also impacting staff and organisations. As a result, some organisations reported high levels of resignations and burnout amongst their workforce.
This increasingly means that people in need are struggling to find suitable help to rebuild their lives.
The survey of 1,476 community sector staff - undertaken for ACOSS and the State and Territory Councils of Social Service - found half of frontline workers and 68 per cent of leaders said they feel under pressure due to understaffing and emotionally drained from their work.
Only half of respondents said they receive decent pay and only one third expect to have enough superannuation when they retire.
Only nine per cent of leaders said their funding covers the full cost of service delivery and only 11 per cent said their government funding adequately covers increases in wage costs.
ACOSS is calling on the government to fund the full cost of service delivery in Commonwealth grants, apply equitable indexation to all contracts and guarantee funding for any pay rises for the sector determined by the Fair Work Commission.
ACOSS Deputy CEO Edwina MacDonald said the report shows a new level of exhaustion unseen in the sector’s recent experience.
“As Australia faces high inflation, dwindling housing options and year-round disasters, the community sector are the rapid responders, offering support to people who are overlooked by the Federal Government. Yet every year the Government just assumes our sector can continue to run on empty. It cannot go on like this.
“Our senior leaders and frontline staff are working longer and harder to support people in need and many are buckling under the pressure. Our report lists examples where staff have been made homeless. Many others are leaving for better paid jobs like driving trucks or working in supermarkets. This is absolutely shocking.
“With increasing demand and inadequate funding, people in desperate need of support sit on long waitlists, are turned away from multiple providers or give up on help entirely. It is unconscionable that woefully inadequate income supports are placing people in this situation and heartbreaking for workers in our sectors when they’re not able to do anything to help.
“The Federal Government’s supplementary funding measure from the October 2022 Budget was widely welcomed as a first step. After a decade of chronic underfunding, it’s well past time to fully fund services and properly invest in a workforce - most of whom are women - doing an incredible job on behalf of the Government, in the toughest of circumstances.”
This Federal Budget the Government must:
Fund the full cost of service delivery, including infrastructure, management, workforce development and administration costs in all Commonwealth grants and contracts for community services.
Create a fairer tax system to fund quality essential services and a social security system that meets need starting by cancelling stage 3 tax cuts.
Lift base rates of income support payments like JobSeeker and Youth Allowance to at least $76 a day.
The report was based on the Australian Community Sector Survey undertaken by the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney for ACOSS and the State and Territory Councils of Social Service.
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