The following is the opening address to the ACT Legislative Assembly Select Committee on Estimates on behalf of UnitingCare Kippax – 12 June 2014
UnitingCare Kippax appreciates the opportunity to appear before the committee today.
We acknowledge the difficult circumstances in which this year’s budget has been presented. As part of the national network of UnitingCare, we echo UnitingCare Australia’s statement in relation to the Australian Government’s Budget that the burden of that budget falls overwhelmingly on families, pensioners and young people.
UnitingCare Kippax comes with substantial experience – particularly, but not only, in relation to West Belconnen. West Belconnen is in a state of transition, with continuing elements of locational disadvantage and complex needs, but with a significant housing expansion planned to commence within the next 12 months. It is our belief that West Belconnen has both a stronger sense of identity and community than in previous years and also experiences as strong, if not stronger, elements of marginalisation and social exclusion.
We seek to contribute to a community where all people can live a decent life – where people belong, are valued and have the opportunity to participate in society. We note that anything that either contributes to the vulnerability of people in society, or fails to reduce their vulnerability, damages all of us.
We base our submission today on our shared and lived experience with people in this community. Those people include the over 2500 people who were supported in the past 12 months through the Emergency Relief program at Kippax. They include the hundreds of families who are supported through the range of early intervention, ongoing support and crisis services. And they include the great many people who are seeking to make a positive difference in their local community through involvement in the planning and implementation of grass roots initiatives.
We note that there are many initiatives in this budget that we warmly support.
Human Services Blueprint and connected service delivery
As long term advocates of streamlined and joined up services, we strongly welcome the Human Services Blueprint and the launch of the Local Services Network in West Belconnen. We believe that this will lay important and long term foundations for a different form of delivery of human services, and the ways that a broad range of organisations can work efficiently and collaboratively to increase the quality of life of people who are being supported.
We anticipate positive and innovative ways in which this Network can draw on, invest in and value the experience of all participants in the Human Services system – people who are accessing the services, people who are providing Government services and people who are providing Community Sector services.
As keen supporters of the Targeted Assistance Strategy, we welcome the increase in concessions in this budget. We assume it will aim to further the work of the Targeted Assistance Strategy and so we also welcome the substantive review of concessions in the ACT. We look forward to a streamlining of the concessions; we anticipate simplified eligibility and a single form of application. We welcome the reduction in “administrative charges” for those who pay vehicle registration periodically, but we remain concerned that we have not seen the full implementation of the TAS recommendation – that this be available without any administrative costs, to those experiencing financial hardship.
We remain particularly concerned that our submission in relation to increased funding of the Emergency Financial and Material Aid program in this budget has not implemented and that the review of the program has not been acted upon in the past 12 months. This has become even more important in the light of the Australian Government’s Budget which we, along with many across the Community Sector, believe will inevitably mean that these services will experience a continued increase in demand. We remain underfunded for these services, which means that people who are in financial stress will experience both deeper and longer vulnerability and isolation.
The people at the heart of the budget
We know that Budgets are not about programs or organisations, nor about statistics or dollar signs. We believe that the best measurement will be in the way that the lives of real people are changed – hopefully for the better. I draw to your attention the real situations of real people, and invite you to consider the ways in which these and other people will be impacted.
I am not using their real names.
Kelly (19) and Jarrad (20) have a 1 year old baby – Zac. Zac was born prematurely. Kelly and Jarrad are struggling financially with bills, debts and a car loan. They have been homeless, though they are currently in a Housing ACT property. Jarrad’s father died suddenly at the time of Zac’s birth, and their car was stolen on the day of the funeral. Jarrad developed appendicitis, and the Centrelink payments relating to Zac’s birth took 6 weeks to be paid. Jarrad – an apprentice – became unemployed when his employer cut staff. Jarrad is very hesitant to follow through with his former employer for a statement of the hours towards his apprenticeship. His confidence is low and he believes he will be ignored. Both Kelly and Jarrad are now looking to enrol at CIT to do a Community Services Cert IV.
Jenna is the mother of 4 young children, aged 7, 5, 2 and 1. Her former partner is violent and spent their income and savings. Jenna lost her housing and her possessions. She has been withdrawn, defensive and resistant to receiving help. She experienced great shame that she could not adequately feed her children with the basics of meat and fruit, and that she wasn’t able to afford a school uniform for her children.
The stories of Kelly, Jarrad, Zac and Jenna are common stories. There are many others like them.
We know that the quicker that people are able to move out of financial and other vulnerability, the stronger and more sustained that their recovery will be. We remain concerned that people in these circumstances – and many other similar circumstances – will remain in difficulty for longer and their recovery will be slower without sufficient ongoing attention to the most vulnerable members of our community.
My hope is that the generosity of these people in sharing their stories, and the strength that they continue to demonstrate in particularly difficult circumstances may lead to ongoing conversations about the way in which our most vulnerable can be most effectively supported.