Housing is a basic necessity and the largest expenditure item of most Australian households. Secure and appropriate housing contributes to health and wellbeing, educational and vocational achievement, and life chances. Yet according to government figures, approximately 38,000 households in South Australia are suffering “housing stress”, that is, paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people struggle in, or worse, are excluded from the private rental market by costs and other barriers. Social housing (public housing and community housing organisations) is the only option for many, but at the heart of rent pressures and risk of homelessness for vulnerable people is a lack of stock of social housing. However, the stock of social housing is ageing and declining.
Key changes are needed to increase and improve the stock of affordable housing, and of social housing in particular. SACOSS is proposing:
Key changes needed to increase and improve the stock of affordable housing and of social housing in particular are:
- Mandating and enforcing that the requirement for new large housing developments to have 15% affordable housing should consist of 5% for affordable home ownership, 5% for affordable rental (under NRAS), and 5% for high needs rental clients.
The current requirement for 15% of new housing developments to be affordable housing is not specific enough, not well enforced and is not addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in the housing market. The proposal here is to mandate specific types of housing within the current headline requirement. It is line with the 30 Year Plan and will ensure a stock of rental and high needs accommodation.
- Transferring title (not just management) of stock from Housing SA to the community housing sector
The current proposals/practice of transferring management of stock from Housing SA to the community housing sector does not provide any incentive or ability for community housing organisations to invest in new development (as they are unable to utilise the value in the land), or to better utilise properties (for instance, by developing smaller block-properties for older residents, thus keeping pressure off nursing homes). Giving community housing organisations title to the land and housing stock would enable those organisations to borrow money against the assets to invest in new housing, or to redevelop more or better housing – for instance, by subdividing to smaller blocks for older residents, thus increasing the stock of housing available and keeping pressure off nursing homes.
- Mandating universal aged-appropriate design standards for new developments to increase stock of appropriate housing for those with special needs
The lack of housing appropriate for those with special needs such as wheelchairs or mobility constraints limits their housing options and/or makes for expensive retro-fitting for individuals and housing providers (including Housing SA). Mandating universal design standards which anticipate changing needs over time in all new construction will improve the housing stock overall and in particular increase the amount of stock available for those with particular needs.
Hear more about housing stress and the real cost of living from Radio Adelaide's Small Change program broadcast on 12 November, 2013.
SACOSS, Cost of Living Update, No. 16, September Quarter 2013.
Primary and Preventative Health
The focus of the health care system and the way that health care is delivered have huge impacts on both health and budget outcomes. The current model of health care which is built around tertiary care and large infrastructure (eg. hospitals) can provide necessary medical interventions, but it is an expensive model which does not address many of the causes of ill health. Income, nutritious food, education, work, transport and housing are all key factors in determining health and health inequality.
Yet despite the overwhelming evidence of the importance of primary health and preventative health approaches, these approaches are under-funded and particularly vulnerable to budget cutting in a system dominated by institutionalised medicine. A culture change is needed.
SACOSS is calling for a recommitment to population health and preventative approaches, evidenced by
- Resourcing for local councils to implement Regional Public Health Plan
The SA Public Health Act 2011 recognises the importance of local government as public health authorities and requires local councils to develop a Regional Public Health Plan. These plans are to provide a strategic focus for preventing disease and promoting good health in the region. While the government and LGA have provided some resources and template for developing plans, it is not clear that any more resources will be devoted to actually implementing the plans or achieving public health goals.
- Restoring funding to all primary health programs cut since the McCann Report unless there is clear evidence of Commonwealth funding of program areas in SA
As part of trying to control the blooming health budget, the state government commissioned the McCann Report into non-hospital health services. On the basis of that report, and the assumption that the Commonwealth had core responsibility for primary health, a number of preventative health programs were defunded. However, it is not clear that the Commonwealth is or will take up responsibility in these areas and so good programs contributing to population health are being lost. This is a bad health outcome and economically short-sighted.
Mental health is a poor cousin of the health system. Mental illness constituting around 13% of the total illness burden, while recurrent mental health spending is less than 8% of the total SA Health spend. While improving, investment by non-government organisations in mental health is also low, yet NGO-delivered services are vital to helping people build a better life in the community, get well and reduce their need for crisis and acute care.
SACOSS is calling for the development and implementation of a new 5 Year Plan for Mental Health in SA
The Stepping Up – A Social Inclusion Action Plan for Mental Health Reform 2007-12 was a major initiative of the government and saw improvements in the state mental health services. However, with the expiry of that plan last year, future directions and funding for mental health are unclear. A new plan is required to continue development and coordination of services. Key elements of a plan would include:
- Redress of the underinvestment in mental health by comparison with other health expenditure;
- Strong consumer and carer input and mechanisms for continued input into services and planning;
- Increased investment in community supports delivered by non-government organisations to reduce the need for crisis and acute care and the reliance on hospital Emergency Departments as the “front door” for mental health services;
- Increased engagement of a peer workforce;
- Emphasis on psychosocial support in the key community settings (eg. suicide prevention, transition from justice, access to housing, linkage to employment and education).
Social and Economic Participation
Social participation is a key indicator of the overall “health” and vibrancy of a community and refers to the ways in which people engage with each other and take part in the life of the wider community. However, not all groups and individuals have good connection to the community and to the support and sense of belonging social participation engenders. There are many drivers of social isolation, but supporting people before patterns of isolation, alienation and anti-social behaviour become dominant is important. SACOSS has identified two areas where this early intervention and support is particularly important: child protection and asylum seekers.
The SACOSS State Budget Submission 2013-14 argued that the child protection system is fundamentally broken with nearly three-quarters of children in external care having more than one placement, and an alarming 34% having more than six placements. We continue to believe that a full review of the child protection system is needed, but there is a particular problem that needs to be addressed at the end of the system where the support for children ends abruptly once they turn 18. This often means a lack of services and foster parents being unable or unwilling to continue to support the young adult. Relationships with NGO counsellors and supporters are severed at the same point when the person is particularly vulnerable. The result is often homelessness or inappropriate accommodation, and stresses leading to drug or alcohol misuse and behavioural problems leading to criminal justice issues. Yet outside the child protection system, most 18 year olds live at home with support of families, so we should not expect more from those with often fewer emotional and social resources.
Continuity of emotional support, as well as physical supports, is important. Exit from the system should be managed over time with support only withdrawn when the person is properly housed, employed and/or otherwise able to navigate the adult world, thus requiring careful transition not an arbitrary end on a birthday.
Accordingly, SACOSS is calling for the implementation of a package of measures to assist in transition out of child support for those in the child protection system, including by:
- Ensuring availability of programs around being a successful young person (eg. life skills, building community connection, navigating adult support system)
- Establishing an end point for child protection and support based on individual circumstances and readiness, not an arbitrary age (currently 18), including:
- Maintaining financial support for foster parents after age of 18
- Maintaining financial support for NGO services after age of 18 to ensure continuity of services and emotional support.
There are currently around 4000 people (based on one service provider’s estimation) who have come to Australia seeking asylum and who are living in the SA community. However, under Federal government policy these people are prohibited from working and have to live on 89% of the already below-the-poverty line Newstart allowance, while the state government seems to deem them ineligible for housing and a range of other community supports (as this is seen as a Commonwealth responsibility, or the HealthCard [which they are not eligible for] is the criteria for eligibility). This exclusion has hugely detrimental impacts on those people’s mental health, sense of self and on their chances of finding a place in and contributing to the community (both immediately and should their application for asylum be successful). Inevitably, the community services sector has to fill these gaps out of their own scant resources, least our community completely shuts these people out.
Given the current policy that no asylum seekers arriving by boat will be settled in Australia, there can be no argument that relaxing these restrictions will provide an incentive to others to come to Australia, and a change of policy is desperately need just to treat people in our community with some basic measure of dignity.
SACOSS seeks support for asylum seekers in our community, including through:
- Seeking an exemption from the Federal Government to allow asylum seekers in SA to work
- Funding for fully supported volunteer work programs for those unable to find work
- Allowing asylum seekers to get assistance from Housing SA and other state government agencies where the Federal government has not been able to provide suitable housing and support
Law and Justice
Incarceration is the most expensive and least effective way to redress criminal behaviour in that it does little to deter or limit crime or to support offenders to integrate positively into society. In fact incarceration limits future options (such as housing and work) and leads to social isolation or connection only to other offenders, with a consequence of re-offending, more crime and increased expense to the community. Incarceration should be a last resort, especially for youths where life patterns are still be learned, yet South Australia continues with a system where the vast majority of correctional services resources are directed towards incarceration.
In order to change the direction and focus of the justice system, SACOSS proposes setting a target to reduce the prison population by 10% of sentenced prisoners and 20% of remandees, including by:
- Increasing funding and use of diversionary courts and processes, especially in the youth area where the benchmark should be that no youth should be in detention simply because of homelessness or child protection issues
- Implementing bail accommodation services for the general population promised in the last budget, and developing parallel youth-specific bail accommodation services
- Reviewing criminal legislation in light of the target to reduce the number of crimes with custodial sentences and to reduce length of sentences where appropriate.
Even where courts order diversionary programs or support services there is still a problem in the current system. Lack of resources often means that these services may not be available or there may be no follow through to ensure attendance and that the order is complied with. Accordingly, a person may re-offend and come before the judge/magistrate/board who assumes that the support services were provided and did not have an impact, and therefore orders a custodial sentence, when in fact the services were not there. This is particularly the case in relation to youth offenders where the imperative to keep them out of gaol is greater and where victim awareness and anger management support may be simple interventions which are assumed but not provided.
SACOSS proposes the establishment of an independent or court-based auditing and enforcement system to ensure that the government is actually providing the diversionary and support programs ordered by the court or parole boards.
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