For Anglicare Australia, the end of each year leads to reflection. What have we achieved? What were the major themes of the year? And what have we learned from it all?
A major theme of the year has been fairness. We heard a lot about the fair go in 2019 – the Prime Minister told us that he believes in a fair go for those who have a go. The Opposition went as far as making the fair go its election slogan. We are now reflecting on what this year has told us about fairness.
As we approach 2020, hundreds of thousands of Australians are struggling to find an affordable home. Those who are out of work or underemployed are struggling to make ends meet. And many older Australians are retiring into poverty. With so many Australians now affected by fires, natural disasters, and the impacts of climate change, it is incumbent on us to make sure they have a safety net that can help them recover and get back on their feet.
It is becoming more and more clear that Australians want action on each of these issues. And in each of these areas, there is more consensus than ever about the action that needs to be taken.
More must be done to create jobs and help people participate. All sides of politics have recognised that changes are needed to the Jobactive network. But that recognition has not yet led to action. And as we all know, even a better system will not change the fact that too many people are competing for too few jobs – something that we again found in this year’s Jobs Availability Snapshot. It is past time for Government to invest in direct job creation programs.
Paid work is only part of the story. Over 800,000 people who rely on income support are struggling daily to afford basic essentials like a roof over their head and food on their table. That includes parents, carers, people with disabilities, students, and those who have been locked out of paid work.
People cannot pursue a better life if they are forced to make tough choices between eating a meal and paying a bill, buying shoes for their children and filling prescription. And they cannot look for work if they are homeless and hungry.
Our safety net has become a poverty trap, with rates of Newstart frozen at dangerously low levels for 25 years. One-off payments and tax cuts will not lift people out of poverty – we know that raising the rates of these payments is the most powerful step that any government could take to reduce poverty in Australia. In 2019, we’ve seen unprecedented support to make that happen. Now that we’ve put this issue on the agenda, we cannot allow it to fall from public view.
Another key part of our safety net, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, is in need of serious attention. Yet this year’s Federal Budget surplus was funded off the back of underspending in the Scheme. We cannot afford to keep this up – problems with the Scheme have now been acknowledged by all sides of politics. Whether we see real action in the coming years remains to be seen.
And of course, we’ve seen a big contradiction in how political leaders are dealing with aged care. Both the Government and Opposition supported calling the aged care Royal Commission – itself an act of recognition of the issues facing the sector. Older people should not have to wait for a report to be handed down when we already know that there steps we could be taking now. We need to clear the home care waiting list, tackle workforce challenges, and build a sustainable funding model for aged care. We also need to set money aside so we can act on the Royal Commission’s recommendations once they are handed down. It’s only a matter of time before these issues become too urgent to ignore.
Housing has been another frustrating aspect of public debate this year. Everyone agrees that a home is a basic human need, and nobody doubts that we’ve been in the midst of a crisis for years. Yet even those working full-time are struggling to put a roof over their heads. Our Rental Affordability Snapshot, released early in April, shows the depth of this crisis. We must stop Australia from becoming a country where only the very wealthy can avoid housing stress.
A home, a decent income, and dignity in old age are things that everyone deserves. Each of these areas is critical to making life better for all Australians – and to delivering on the fair go that our leaders have been touting this year.
In 2019, we managed to put these issues on the agenda. Our challenge now is to make sure we get action.