This month, the Anglicare network has been responding to the Federal Budget. Below is a selection of responses from our members.
Federal Budget lacks coherent jobless strategy
By Jeremy Halcrow, CEO of Anglicare NSW South, NSW West and ACT
The Federal budget has been called “Labor-lite” by conservative media. Others labelled it “incoherent” because it lacked a unifying philosophy or strategy. Indeed, there wasn’t a consistent vision for Australian society in Mr Morrison’s presentation at the ACOSS Post-Budget breakfast at UTS, with various elements pulling in different directions.
The positive in this year’s budget was that the Federal Government has made a step toward addressing the housing affordability crisis and related homelessness. “It’s one of the areas where we are relieving pressure on rising costs,” Scott Morrison told the ACOSS breakfast.
Anglicare believes that tackling rental affordability for low income households must be a policy priority. Providing appropriate, affordable housing is a fundamental need for all citizens. We could quibble about the size of the spend on housing, but we now have key parts of the policy architecture needed to address affordability. As economist Dr Marcus Spiller put it: “At least this budget has put the levers in place and future Governments can pull them”. Of course, the gap is the lack of focus on addressing the tax treatment of investment properties, especially capital gains tax. But it is noteworthy that the Treasurer has even tweaked negative gearing by limiting the travel claims landlords can make against their properties.
However, the so-called “welfare integrity” measures, such as drug testing the unemployed, undermines the positive step taken on housing affordability because it will hit the most vulnerable the hardest.
The real question is whether the Coalition believes in a universal safety net for all citizens or sees welfare as a privilege you have to earn. Should only the “deserving” receive our help? Following this logic leads us down a dangerous path. Whilst the Government should be careful stewards of the public purse, it would be very troubling if this philosophy extended into Government-funded assistance services. This approach is certainly contrary to Anglicare’s values, of being inclusive and non-discriminatory in our care.
So what can we do in the face of the constant demonization of the unemployed? One ray of hope is that the public does understand that people are losing jobs for structural reasons, such as automation.
The Australian welfare system should be a universal safety net that ultimately protects all of us by ensuring we have a reasonable level of social equality and civil cohesion. Right now the safety net is so low, and is so full of holes, that it’s not going to stop people hitting the ground.
Budget fails to relieve the burden of many
By Peter Gardiner, CEO of the Samaritans Foundation
The Turnbull Government’s tagline in Tuesday night’s budget touted fairness, opportunity and security for all Australians, but the reality of this statement is of grave concern for vulnerable people and those organisations that support them.
The 2017 budget has resulted in apprehension for what the government intends to do to stop the increase of poverty in Australia, specifically with no commitment to increasing support payments, family tax benefits and expanding the cashless welfare trial and demerit scheme.
This year’s budget has frozen welfare payments at dangerously low levels, ignoring calls from services providers and the welfare sector to consider increases as a matter of priority.
Unfortunately, a lack of increased investment in support payments always has the biggest impact on those who need the most support to break the poverty cycle- children, young people, families and people with a disability. Poverty is not just about money or starvation. It’s about access to appropriate healthcare, affordable and appropriate housing, education and inclusion in society. Many of these issues were not adequately addressed in the budget and payments remain so low that poverty is a real scenario for many.
It’s particularly disappointing to see yet another attempt to reduce family tax benefits which will affect so many Australians who depend on such support. Families are already experiencing financial stress through the ever-increasing costs of living and it is simply unjust for families to assume the burden of balancing the budget for political gain.
The biggest win from the 2017 budget was the government’s move to secure the future of the NDIS through the Medicare Levy and there was also welcome news of investment in the mental health space. News of the government’s commitment to helping people with mental health-related disabilities under the NDIS is a huge win for vulnerable people.
After this budget, we’re looking to the Turnbull Government to truly deliver on their promises of a fair and secure Australia, with adequate opportunity for all.
At Samaritans, we’re encouraging all levels of Government to work together to end the poverty trap and create a safe and secure community for everyone.
Mean-spirited welfare measures punish poor and overshadow Budget’s positive moves on housing
By Paul McDonald, CEO of Anglicare Victoria
The Budget’s welfare measures overshadowed positive moves on disability and housing, including a new national homelessness and housing agreement and $375 million over three years for homelessness services. Instead of taking the opportunity to invest in people and increase welfare payments so people can pay modest rents and cover basic costs of living – the government has taken a punitive approach.
Plans to halve payments for missed appointments, and then cut off welfare for a month for further breaches could have very serious consequences.
The impact of having no income for a month will lead to extreme financial and mental stress and put people already under extreme hardship at further risk of becoming involved in criminal activity or inappropriate lending practices. Not providing disability payments for drug or alcohol related injuries, and random drug testing trials are other examples of government abandoning our society’s most vulnerable.
Funding for social impact investments targeting priority groups such as care leavers was another positive, although the Budget had missed the opportunity to throw Commonwealth support behind raising the age of young people leaving state care. Each year, around 3000 Australians leave state before they turn 18 and are at risk of being homeless, unemployed, a new parent or imprisoned within 12 months. Raising the age to 21 across Australia would give them the support they need to make a better start to adult life.
Some good news, but compliance regime raises worries for vulnerable
By Tony Nicholson, Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence
Delivering the Coalition Government's fourth Budget, Treasurer Scott Morrison cites principles of fairness and opportunity. The Brotherhood of St Laurence believes the fairness test is met when substantial action is taken to build the capacity of disadvantaged job seekers to fully participate in the modern economy and opportunities, in turn, are created to help them transition into work. On this test, there are mixed messages in this Turnbull Government Budget.
The integrity of our welfare system is important, but this does not necessarily mean that people are taking “an easy ride”. We are concerned about the proposed new Jobseeker Compliance Framework, and the withdrawal of income support for vulnerable people that would follow in a new tiered demerit system.
We know from our experience working with highly disadvantaged people that the challenges they face are much more complex than is being portrayed. The risk is that the proposed demerit system, devoid of administrative discretion and not accounting for a full understanding of individual circumstances, will cause increasing levels of homelessness through reduced and cancelled payments. For example, we know that about half the homeless people sleeping rough on our streets are unemployed and rely on unemployment benefits. Payment rates are very low so they can't cover spiralling rents in our cities, let alone look for work and comply with Centrelink job search requirements.
Several new changes to the operation of the welfare system including expansion of the activity test for job seekers from 30 to the age they become eligible for the Age Pension, and a merged Job Seeker Payment to replace several current payments. The system as a whole has been struggling with Centrelink’s automated debt recovery mechanism. I hope it will be able to cope with these new demands and that they will prove effective in assisting people into work.
Poverty and disadvantage that persist in our otherwise prosperous country not only hurt the people directly affected, they are bad for the economy, and also hurt us all. We need to invest in our most disadvantaged people to build an inclusive Australia, one that complies with a foundational principle of our society: a fair go for all.
Seizing the chance to get the system right
By Jeremy McAuliffe, general manager of home care at Benetas
One of the major issues to come out of recent budget announcements has been the deferral of the planned 2018 merger of the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) and the Home Care Packages program. The merger is intended to provide increased clarity, stability and continuity of care for home care consumers, and the timeframe extension has several significant implications.
In an environment where we are trying to make things as straightforward as possible for consumers, operating two different programs essentially offering similar services is confusing. There are multiple service streams, duplications across both, and neither system is able to operate as efficiently or effectively as needed.
Consumers deserve a better continuum of care; one where they can move seamlessly between services as their needs change. The proposed merger of the two programs promises to deliver on that, but until it happens we are continuing to deny consumers full and effective choice.
The major challenges to integration are the structural differences between the two programs, particularly around funding and consumer fee arrangements. These often prove disincentives for CHSP consumers to take up home care packages.
But until one integrated service system is in play, we will continue to make inefficient use of funding and lose the opportunity to place consumers at a point in the system that is most aligned to their level of need.
As a consequence of the delay, the government has promised to extend CHSP funding arrangements. While this provides some short-term security for consumers and providers, it doesn’t do anything to address the ongoing and critical shortfall of service provision.
The deferral does present government however with an important opportunity to bring stability to an environment that has seen significant change since the introduction of the My Aged Care system, consumer directed care and this year’s move to allocate packages to consumers from February.
We have seen a range of issues present themselves which indicate that there is room for improvement with aspects of the current system. Feedback from providers and consumers suggests that the My Aged Care referral system and prioritisation process, and the Medicare claim and payment system, are yet to operate at optimal functionality and effectiveness. Indeed, it is promising that government has recognised the impacts of inadequate resourcing by allocating $3.1 million to support My Aged Care operations.
The extension further gives government the opportunity to progress development of a single set of quality standards and to apply outcomes from its current investigations and consultations around wellness and reablement to the development of the integrated program.
The deferral also offers more time to address inconsistencies within current assessment structures. A cohesive, independent and high-functioning integrated assessment service is essential to the future of aged care. We need a system that is fully constructed within the My Aged Care context to ensure current assessment and referral delays are addressed, and that consumers have timely and appropriate access to the services they need.
While the deferral is not ideal, it does give us the opportunity to resolve some of the current issues impacting home care. This is our chance to get it right and ensure we are delivering high quality and responsive home care which best meets the needs of older Australians, well into the future.