Community services on brink of staffing crisis: report

Australia’s community services sector is at breaking point as years of underfunding and increasing living costs take their toll, research has found.

It comes as the federal government’s economic inclusion advisory committee recommended a substantial increase to the JobSeeker payment and related working age payments as a top priority.

In the aftermath of the Black Summer bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic, demand for community services, including disability, family violence and homelessness organisations, has soared.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) survey of 1476 community sector staff found half of frontline workers and 68 per cent of leaders said they were under pressure due to understaffing and were emotionally drained by their work.

Just nine per cent of leaders in the sector agreed funding covered the full cost of service delivery while 47 per cent said staff turnover was too high.

Only half of respondents said they receive decent pay and just one-third expect to have enough superannuation when they retire.

As the federal government finalises its budget, due to be handed down in the second week of May, ACOSS said it was well past time to fully fund community services.

“As Australia faces high inflation, dwindling housing options and year-round disasters, the community sector are the rapid responders, offering support to people who are overlooked by the government,” ACOSS deputy chief executive Edwina MacDonald said.

“Yet every year, the government just assumes our sector can continue to run on empty. It cannot go on like this.”

Ms MacDonald said the report showed a new level of exhaustion in the sector that was unsustainable and needed to be addressed.

In a statement on the advisory committee’s report, Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said the government would always look to support those most in need, where it was responsible and affordable to do so.

“While we can’t fund every good idea, there will be measures in the May Budget to address disadvantage,” the statement said.

“This will include energy bill price relief that prioritises those on payments and pensions.”

The statement said the advisory committee would continue to play an important role providing advice on barriers to work and the effectiveness of payments.

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