Community services

Community services strained amid COVID-19

Community-based organizations face an increasing demand for their services amid increasing levels of poverty and disadvantage during the pandemic. These services are also struggling to meet growing demand as community needs become more complex, according to a national survey of workers in the sector.

The report, Meeting demand in the shadow of the Delta epidemic: experiences from the community sector, examines how community sector organizations have responded to the demand for their services in 2021, changes in population and community needs, and the sector’s capacity to meet those needs. It is based on the Australian Community Sector Survey conducted in September 2021 by Associate Professor Natasha Cortis and Dr Megan Blaxland of the Social Policy Research Center of UNSW Sydney in collaboration with the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the network of Councils of Social Service of Australia. (COSS Network), supported by Bendigo Bank.

The survey was completed by 1,828 community sector staff, including 513 organizational leaders (CEOs and senior executives), in September 2021 during COVID-19 shutdowns. Interviewees worked in a range of services, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services, homelessness, youth, migrants, people with disabilities, aging, legal, financial, health counseling and education.

Overworked and underfunded

As the community sector has worked to support communities across Australia in the face of the enormous challenges posed by COVID-19, the report reveals the extent of the challenges overworked community organizations face.

“During a chaotic year, the community sector went above and beyond to ensure that as few people as possible were left behind. Yet, not only have services struggled to meet the growing demand until 2021, but they have also observed a worrying increase in the complexity of needs within their communities, ”said A / Prof. Cortis.

Services identified housing affordability and homelessness, social isolation, lack of access to mental health supports and cost of living pressures as the main challenges people faced this year. . In particular, the demand for services has skyrocketed for housing and homelessness services and support for children, youth and families.

“People in poverty and disadvantage try to survive on low incomes despite inadequate income support, increasing cost of living pressure, insecurity of housing and insufficient funding for essential services. This means that the sector continues to face growing demand without sufficient resources and supports to meet it, ”the researchers said.

Edwina MacDonald, interim CEO of ACOSS, the supreme body of the community sector, said the report shows how difficult it has been for community service organizations to meet the demand for their services during a tumultuous and exhausting year.

“Services have not only seen a sharp increase in demand, but they have also seen people’s needs become more complex and more difficult to meet,” said MacDonald. “It shows the deep and sustained toll the pandemic has taken on low income people across the country.”

“In 2020, we saw improvements in the experiences of low-income people with the initial introduction of the coronavirus supplement. However, in 2021, with the emergence of the Delta variant and the withdrawal of income supplements, we have seen people everywhere struggling to survive and needing to access more essential services to cope. “

Ms MacDonald said community organizations have shown extraordinary resilience and creativity to continue providing services to people experiencing poverty and disadvantage despite prolonged closures, strict public health measures and agreements. short-term and uncertain funding.

“Even with this hard work, we’re concerned that only 6% of departments said they could still meet demand. This shows a worrying increase in people’s need for help, and underscores how difficult it is for community organizations to adequately meet this need.

Need for a new funding approach

The report recommends that a national COVID-19 recovery plan include a new strategic partnership between the federal government and the community sector to strengthen working relationships and ensure that the expertise and importance of the sector is integrated into administration government and policy development. This should include a new approach to funding community services based on need, service delivery based on a true principle of collaboration and co-design and longer funding cycles, more holistic resources for organizations and end. precarious funding arrangements.

“With the shadow of COVID likely to be long, community services must be recognized and resourced as part of our national COVID-19 recovery plan. Stronger services mean more resilient communities, ”said MacDonald.

Main conclusions of the report:

  • 80 percent of respondents indicated that demand levels for their main service have increased.
  • 58 percent of respondents reported an increase in the number of clients that their service could not support.
  • Only 6% of services have always been able to meet demand, up from 19% in 2020.
  • 73 percent of those surveyed reported increased levels of poverty and disadvantage in the communities they support.
  • 81 percent of respondents reported increasing complexity of needs among service users.

Read it Meeting demand in the shadow of the Delta epidemic: community sector experience report.