The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) said that today’s ACT Budget fell short on the investments and vision required to ensure Canberrans facing disadvantage were protected as the ACT emerges from the COVID-19 crisis.
The Budget includes pre-announced measures of $15.8 million to extend funding introduced during COVID-19 for mental health services, $2.6 million for housing and homelessness services, and new commitments for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities.
ACTCOSS welcomed budget measures including $37 million to improve building efficiency and sustainability for social and public housing, low-income owner-occupiers and rental properties; $900,000 for a Palliative Care ACT Respite Hub pilot; and $1.2 million to extend COVID-19 tenancy relief until 30 June 2021 for residential landlords who reduced rents by at least 25% for tenants who have been impacted by COVID-19.
ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell, said: “While we welcome these investments, the 2020-21 ACT Budget is most notable for what is missing.
“This Budget includes major commitments on infrastructure, including light rail and climate change initiatives, but does not include any additional money to implement the commitments in the Parliamentary and Governing Agreement to increase social and affordable housing.
“The ACT’s housing crisis is worsening. Today’s ACT Budget will provide little comfort to Canberrans trying to keep a roof over their heads.
“This is yet another missed opportunity. As the ACT recovers from the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, higher investment in housing delivers a high benefit. For every $1 million invested in social housing, GDP is boosted by $1.3 million,” Dr Campbell said.
ACTCOSS also said that the community sector was concerned about the lack of ongoing funding for many of its services. The Health Justice Partnership, a successful service that supports new parents experiencing domestic and family violence, is only funded until the end of July 2021.
Dr Campbell said: “We are deeply concerned that this ACT Budget funds some services for only one or two years. This means organisations, their staff and their clients have no future certainty. This contributes to high rates of anxiety and staff turnover and makes the work of the community sector very challenging.
“More broadly, we are disappointed to see that investment in community services does not appear to be part of the ACT Government’s strategy to emerge from the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.
“For example, we would like to have seen more investment in community-based early intervention services that prevent people from entering the justice system.
“There is little new spending in this Budget directly targeting vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, including people with disability, older people and carers, despite these people being among the most impacted by COVID-19.
“The health care and social assistance sector is one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the ACT as we try to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding and diverse population and an increasing population of older Canberrans.
“We are struggling to meet demand, particularly following COVID-19. In the most recent National Survey of Community Sector Workers, 58% reported that poverty and disadvantage had increased among the people accessing their services; 84% reported demand in the community either ‘increased’ or ‘increased significantly’; and less than 4% reported that they were completely able to meet demand.
“The community sector also makes an important economic contribution. For every $1 a year invested in childcare, we can achieve an annual GDP increase of around $5, and community service organisations in the ACT make a contribution of $2.2 billion to the ACT economy.
“One ray of hope is the Knowledge Capital – Future Jobs Fund announced in today’s Budget. As a growing sector, and a major creator of jobs and economic growth, we urge the ACT Government to ensure that the needs of the health and community sector are included in the Future Jobs Fund program,” Dr Campbell said.
ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.