Media release: Report shows ACT community services already struggling before COVID-19 crisis

20 March 2020

Government support for the not-for-profit (NFP) community service sector in the ACT is failing to keep up with demand for services, foster collaboration and allow for advocacy. This is a key finding from the Australian Community Sector Survey prepared by the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney in collaboration with the Councils of Social Service of Australia and supported by Community Sector Banking.

Key findings for the ACT from the national survey of community sector workers:

  • 58% reported that poverty and disadvantage increased among the people accessing their services in 2019
  • 84% reported demand in the community either ‘increased’ (60%) or ‘increased significantly’ (a further 24%) in 2019
  • Just over half of organisational leaders said they need to be cautious about engaging in systemic advocacy because of their funding arrangements
  • More than 40% of organisational leaders said funding arrangements did not support collaboration
  • 56% observed an increase in competition for funding, with less than 1% reporting a decrease.

The CEO of the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), Dr Emma Campbell, said:

“NFP community services care for us across our lifetimes, from childcare though to aged care. The community sector also supports people in times of great need: when they are escaping domestic violence, facing homelessness or dealing with mental health issues.

“The community sector provides vital support in times of crisis, such as the recent bushfire emergency and now COVID-19.

“The 2019 Australian Community Sector Survey shows that even before the recent horrific summer and the onslaught of COVID-19, the ACT not-for-profit community service sector was struggling to meet demand.

“While 84% of ACT community service organisations experienced increasing demand in 2019, less than 4% reported that they were completely able to meet demand.”

Dr Campbell said that the ACT community sector’s role in supporting vulnerable members of our community was often hidden from view.

“Community services are often seen as something ‘other’ people need, but ‘not me’. The current health and economic crisis has amplified the fact that all of us can experience vulnerability as circumstances change,” Dr Campbell said.

“Recent events have highlighted the fact that the community sector is crucial to everybody-a properly resourced not-for-profit community service sector benefits every one of us.

“In the ACT we should all have the peace of mind that we can get the support we need, especially in times of hardship. A strong community sector is critical to achieving this and ensuring we pull together, especially in times of crisis.

“Our advocacy role is also vital at a time like this to highlight critical gaps and focus efforts towards the most pressing community needs,” Dr Campbell concluded.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said:

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

“The Government must also urgently lift Newstart and remove barriers to accessing our social security safety net, to ease the pressure on the growing number of people in dire financial circumstances.

“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 who need to self-isolate.”

Read the Australian Community Sector Survey (pdf).

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.

For more information or comment, please contact

Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617 or 02 6202 7200.

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