Pursuing more funding to retain services for vulnerable communities

Not-for-profit and community sector organisations consistently rely on external funding to deliver essential services to vulnerable communities in Australia and pay fair wages to their staff. Many of these services, including those at Better Place Australia, are able to have a wide reach and strong impact because of this crucial financial backing. 

In 2012, the federal government introduced the Equal Remuneration Order (ERO) supplementation to annually boost the salaries of community service workers involved in pre-existing programs and who didn’t have the pay increase included in their contracts. We applauded this move for its recognition of the sector’s needs and contribution. 

Last year, community organisations found themselves in the same financial quandary as they were in a decade ago. The ERO effectively was to end in June 2021 which translated to a $45m cut from a sector that still badly needed it – even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. The substantial shortfall would deal a severe blow to service providers and their communities. Among the potential implications were:

  • 1,000 skilled Australians losing their jobs 
  • 100,000 vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians losing access to essential services 
  • 250 family and relationship program sites shutting, mostly in regional and rural areas. These services included family law services, children and parenting services and domestic violence services.

Ripple effect of funding cut would be far and wide

In October 2019, the Australian Community Sector Survey (ACSS) conducted a survey of 1,454 community sector staff on the impact of the funding cut. The response was grim and unequivocal. The respondents warned that organisational financial status, staffing and service delivery would suffer in the aftermath of the slashed funding. The only way forward, they said, was increasing the base grants to replace the financial shortfall. 

A report by the Centre for International Economics (CIE) commissioned by the Family & Relationship Services Australia (FRSA) stated that the financial shortfall had to be addressed through, “increased taxation to expand services or be imposed on all health system users through increased waiting lists.” Either way, the everyday Aussie bore the brunt of it. 

Apart from potential staff losses and program closures, the sector would experience a loss in gender equity due to its predominantly female workforce. Attracting and retaining was becoming a challenge once again. 

Campaigning to continue serving vulnerable communities

The road ahead was a bleak one for the community service sector, and its partners and allies. Add to that, the rising demand for mental health services during the pandemic, the future looked frightening. 

Many children, families and communities hadn’t yet recovered from the trauma of the bushfires and decades of drought. The pandemic sent them reeling even further. They desperately needed community services, particularly in the family and relationship sector. 

We joined the Family and Relationship Services Australia (FRSA), community and not-for organisations in a national campaign ahead of news of the potential funding cut in 2020. We raised awareness of the issue among Australian politicians and urged the federal government to embed the ERO into grants before supplementation ended in June 2021 so that the communities we serve would remain unscathed. 

The campaign was a success with the Federal Government including the ERO into future funding agreements for another four years.

 

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