The ACT Council of Social Service has joined the Australian Council of Social Service and peak bodies in welcoming some broad directions in the Federal Government 2017-2018 Budget while expressing concern about punitive welfare measures as well as risks to social infrastructure in Canberra.
Susan Helyar, Director of the ACT Council of Social Service welcomed announcements in tonight’s Budget that large scale mainstream programs have gained more funding and improved certainty of funding into the future. These include full and sustainable funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, funding for GP’s and the pharmaceutical benefits scheme and schools funding.
“The substantial investment in transport infrastructure in capital cities and regions should create jobs, boost productivity and improve amenity. Unfortunately there is very little infrastructure investment in this budget for ACT and there are job cuts in Centrelink.
“An offer of matched funding for transition programs supporting people with a psycho-social disability, restoration of funding for Community Legal Centres, funding for the redress scheme arising out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, improved disability employment support and ongoing funding to some core data collection projects that can inform policy and investment decisions in the future are positive measures.
“After years of intense lobbying and growing community expectations, the Federal Government has acknowledged that they have a critical role in addressing the housing affordability crisis and providing long term reliable funding to homelessness services. We welcome the tax incentive to encourage private investment in affordable housing, the bond aggregator scheme and securing ongoing funding for homelessness services.
“There is more hard work to be done to address the real drivers of speculative investment in housing via tax reform. The home deposit saving and downsizing incentives are likely to drive up house prices. We agree with ACOSS that secure housing for people on the lowest incomes requires new public investment in social housing and improved rent assistance for tenants.
“The tightening of compliance measures on people accessing income support are unnecessary, punitive and should not be the first place government goes to save money. ACTCOSS opposes and will work hard against extension of the basics card, new breaching requirements, trial of drug testing of 5000 welfare recipients; exclusion of people from the Disability Support Pension; as well as cuts to Pensioner Education Supplement.
“It’s disturbing that we are still seeing an emphasis on misinformed, disrespectful and counterproductive measures which target people on income support, especially people trapped into a cycle of substance abuse. The reality is that substance abuse rarely occurs on its own but in the context of untreated mental illness, a history of trauma and living with violence. We need to support people to change their circumstances and to address the barriers they experience to participating socially and economically through proper support not a spiral into sanctions and poverty.
“Instead we should be working with people who have been unemployed, and with businesses, to build access to real jobs that pay a living wage.
“The Federal Budget has a shameful lack of focus on addressing the priorities outlined by National Congress of Australia's First Peoples which were presented in a clear, coherent and practical agenda for community led solutions to problems government run programs have failed to address for decades. This agenda has been completely ignored.
“Foreign aid has again been cut.
“The stark message that ACTCOSS hears is that both Federal and ACT Governments are prepared to invest in universal services (in health and education) and transport infrastructure but not in core social infrastructure needed to maintain vital services and fill the gaps that many people in this city experience when they seek support to deal with difficult circumstances.
“A number of measures, like funding for homelessness services, oral health care, community mental health programs look positive on paper but require matched funding from the States and Territories. The ACT Government has to step up to ensure this community has the core social infrastructure it needs in next month’s ACT Budget.
“The major gaps ACTCOSS has identified include Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander led services, domestic violence, community mental health services, carer support, volunteering, justice services, drug and alcohol treatment services, engagement with and support to people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, access to advocacy, peer and self-help group support, information linkages, capacity building and community development," Ms Helyar said.
For more information or comment please contact
Susan Helyar, Director, on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200.