The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has joined other Councils of Social Service in expressing disappointment that the Federal Budget has failed to reduce severe poverty and close the worst gaps in essential services, while welcoming some investments and supports.
According to ACTCOSS Director Susan Helyar, “Tonight’s Budget promises the first surplus in 12 years and billions in high-end tax cuts. But the more than ten thousand Canberrans on Newstart, Youth and other Allowances have waited 25 years and still the Budget hasn’t responded to their cost of living pressures.
“A supplement of between $75-125 to be paid to people on a whole range of pensions and family support payments to cope with energy bills is now being extended to people on Newstart, Youth Allowance and Sickness Allowance. There is no action on energy efficiency upgrades to rental housing so people could actually reduce their energy bills in Canberra’s climate extremes.
“Emergency assistance charities on whom many people on inadequate allowances rely stand to lose $5.7m a year from 2020.
“A forum held by ACTCOSS last year heard from people forced into the most basic compromises in their lives by inadequate incomes and support – people young and old are forced to choose between bad options like cash in hand work or continuing with their studies, buying nappies or putting petrol in their car, eating three meals a day or keeping their essential data plan going. You cannot ‘have a go’ in circumstances like these.
“While the government has highlighted tax cuts as the number one priority for economic growth and financial security for households, the community has clearly said they would forgo tax cuts for reliable cervices that would back them up when they face difficult circumstances. Extra funding for carers, mental health, domestic violence, community housing, community legal services, aged care, education, training and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will be welcomed by people in Canberra but the resources provided are only enabling catch up with growth in demand. Canberra has some of the fastest growing suburbs in Australia.
“The funding for aged care and disability Royal Commissions are welcome. However, there is no additional funding for financial counselling despite that being a recommendation of the Royal Commission into banking and financial services, and despite significant waiting times for Canberrans to access these vital services.
“Investments in Closing the Gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are inadequate.
“We are in perpetual catch up. Even when government makes positive investments, the lag between growth in demand and growth in resources means the new investments never fully meet community need. This puts pressure back on the ACT Government to fill gaps.
“The NDIS shows that even with money in place, the Commonwealth cannot get it out it in a timely way. In a case of throwing good money after bad, the government is continuing to automate welfare payments despite the ‘robo-debt’ scandal showing that automation is a poor substitute for proper oversight and careful consideration of individual circumstances.
“The surplus is expected to be $45 billion and revenue reduction is $158 billion – on these figures we will continue to see inequality increase and be playing catch up in the service system for a very long time”, Ms Helyar concluded.