Survey shows community sector underfunded, overworked and underpaid

26 April 2022

The report ‘Carrying the Costs of the Crisis‘, undertaken by the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney for the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the State and Territory Councils of Social Service, including the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), explores the experiences of thousands of community sector workers, service leaders (CEOs and senior managers), and frontline workers across the country.

Dr Emma Campbell, ACTCOSS CEO said: “Chronic under-funding of the sector by the Commonwealth Government and Territory Government is severely impacting the services that community sector organisations can offer and their ability to retain staff.

“In some areas of the survey, the ACT fared the worst. Nationally, 29% of leaders were anticipating that finances would worsen in 2022. However, in the ACT, 50% of leaders expected their financial position to worsen in 2022.”

This survey follows an ACT-focused report, ‘Counting the Costs‘ commissioned by ACTCOSS on behalf of the community sector and the ACT Government. The report, released in February this year, showed that:

  • The annual indexation rate applied to funding was insufficient to cover rising costs
  • Nearly half of organisations incurred losses on ACT Government funded programs
  • To remain competitive, one in four organisations priced services below cost when tendering for contracts
  • Almost two thirds or organisations had decided not to apply for funds to deliver services because available funding was insufficient to cover costs
  • Demand for mental health services has doubled, yet funding for mental health services has not kept pace and the share of funding to community mental health services has decreased.

Dr Campbell said: “We need action from all levels of Government. There is a reasonable fear among sector leaders that the situation will only get worse, without a change to policy settings.

“From an incoming federal Government, we need a commitment to provide adequate federal funding for services provided by the community sector, including aged care, disability, homelessness, and domestic violence services and a guarantee of appropriate remuneration of the community sector workforce at rates which are regularly and adequately indexed.

“We are also calling on the ACT Government to create a sustainable funding model for our sector including to review the formula for calculating the indexation rate for community sector funding; to review all ACT funding agreements to ensure that costs of providing services are fully covered; to prioritise early intervention and prevention; and to boost funding for areas of high need for example where there are long waiting lists and clear evidence of significant and unmet demand.

“Community organisations should be able to rely on governments to fund them appropriately so they can provide quality services to all who need them and pay their workers fairly,” said Dr Campbell.

‘Carrying the Cost of the Crisis’ Report quotes from ACT community sector leaders:

“I’m seriously worried. I don’t want to stand down staff because you put so much time and money into training them and if you stand them down they will leave, but keeping paying them through this round of lockdowns has almost depleted our retained earnings that we have spent 20 years saving.” (CEO, Health-related service, ACT)

“Contracts are far too short for the sector and affect the retention of staff and the planning of services. Contracts need to be longer in length and give room for more flexibility such as innovation and responding to client need as it arises.” (CEO, Health-related service, ACT)

“If you don’t operate in a ‘sexy’ area there’s no fundraising/ philanthropic money, and Govt money is becoming tighter and harder to win especially if you go in with a true cost (you only win tenders/grants now if you under budget and then are prepared to wear the loss).” (CEO, Health-related service, ACT)

“Businesses are struggling therefore their capacity to sponsor and donate is constrained. Also fundraising events are being regularly cancelled or are not as effective (i.e. online vs in person events).” (CEO, Child, youth and family service, ACT)

“COVID has placed massive strain on business with 64% reduction in income streams.” (CEO, Child, youth and family services, ACT)

“We are seeing significant increases in costs through salary rises, IT requirements, superannuation contributions and long service leave contributions but funding is not keeping up.” (CEO, Legal, advocacy or peak body, ACT)

The ACOSS media release and full ‘Carrying the Costs of the Crisis’ report are available on the ACOSS website.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations. Follow us @ACTCOSS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For more information or comment, please contact

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

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