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Govt urged to act as COVID-19 pushes community services to the brink

SACOSS is warning that the community services sector will be unable to support vulnerable South Australians through the COVID-19 crisis unless the Federal Government steps-up to provide an urgent rescue package.
Community services were already struggling to keep up with demand in aged care, homelessness and support for people escaping domestic violence, as well as providing disability, mental health, and drug and alcohol services, and will soon reach a crisis point due to COVID-19.
Today SACOSS, together with ACOSS and state Councils of Social Service, are releasing the results of a survey of 1454 community sector workers.
The Australian Community Sector Survey Report, prepared by UNSW, reveals that even prior to the catastrophic bushfires and the growing COVID-19 disaster, that government support for the not-for-profit community service sector was failing to keep up with demand for services. The COVID-19 crisis will create new challenges for staff and community sector organisations while demand for key support services is likely to rise.
SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley says, "Most Australians will, at some point in our lives rely on the community services sector to provide important services whether this is as we grow up or as we age. The community services sector provides frontline responses for individuals, families and communities at times of critical need. For example, when someone’s escaping domestic violence, facing homelessness, struggling with their mental health or an addiction, leaving the criminal justice system or while trying to house and feed families in poverty or after a disaster."
"This sector supports people who are amongst those most likely to be affected by both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, including older people, people on low incomes, people living with disability and First Nations communities." 
"This survey tells us that the system is already under severe pressure. Add-in the recent bushfires and the escalating COVID-19 emergency and who knows how long it will be before the entire system is headed for crisis."
"That's why today we are calling on our Federal Government to put in place an urgent rescue package of financial and other supports, including stimulus for the NFP sector itself as well as urgently raising the rate of Newstart and other allowances to assist the people our sector is supporting."
Key findings of the survey included: 
Two thirds reported that poverty and disadvantage increased among the people accessing their services last year
23% of services reported either never or rarely being able to meet demand, with a further 41% only able to “somewhat” meet demand for their services
In South Australia, 82% of respondents had seen a rise in demand for their services over the last year, but around half had seen their funding decrease
57% of South Australian respondents were worried about the future of their jobs – higher than the national rate of 47%
60% observed increased competition for funding, with less than 1% reporting that it decreased.
ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie, says: “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. 
“In the face of severe downturn, the Government must also urgently lift Newstart, and remove barriers to accessing our social security safety net. Newstart has not been increased in real terms in 26 years and we know that $40 a day is simply not enough for anyone to get by at any time, but especially in the current crisis and as the economy rebuilds. 
“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.” 
Community Sector Banking, Andrew Cairns, Chief Executive Officer at Community Sector Banking, said: 
“The key findings confirm what we already know: the sector is facing enormous challenges with both funding support and service delivery. So many not-for-profit and community-based organisations are being asked to do more for less whilst government support continues to dwindle even while demand for critical services continues to rise. It would be unwise for the government to ignore the findings of this report.” 
Published Date: 
Friday, 20 March 2020