Community services

Community services struggle in the shadow of Covid

Only 6% of charities say they were able to meet all the demand for services in 2021

As 2021 draws to a close, new research has found that charity staff are not only burnt out and struggling to meet growing demand, but are seeing a growing wave of more complex issues, disadvantage and poverty among the communities it serves.

The report, released by the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) on Tuesday, highlights the immense pressure the sector is under, two years into the pandemic.

Based on results from the Australian Community Sector Survey, the report found that only 6% of nearly 2,000 respondents were still able to meet demand for services. This figure is down from 19% at the end of 2020.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents reported an increase in the number of clients their service was unable to support, 73 percent said there was an increase in levels of poverty and disadvantage in communities that they support, and 81 percent reported increasing complexity of needs among services. users.

Housing affordability and homelessness, social isolation, lack of mental health supports and cost of living were some of the main challenges people were facing, with housing demand and homelessness increasing throughout the year.

ACOSS Acting CEO Edwina MacDonald said not only is the demand for services increasing, but people’s needs are becoming more complex and difficult to meet, posing a big challenge for service providers. services.

“This shows the deep and sustained impact of the pandemic on low-income people across the country,” MacDonald said.

While the introduction of additional government financial support in 2020 helped improve the lives of low-income people, this was not the case in 2021.

“With the emergence of the Delta Variant and the withdrawal of income supplements, we saw people everywhere struggling to survive and needing access to more essential services to cope,” MacDonald said.

“Community organizations have shown considerable resilience and creativity to continue to provide services to the poor and disadvantaged despite prolonged closures, strict public health measures and short-term funding agreements. and uncertain.

Charities operate without support

On top of this, a quarter of participants reported a decrease in the availability of funding to support their work, with only one in eight charity leaders saying that in 2021 there was enough funding to meet the request.

One survey respondent said that the important contribution of the community sector during disasters needs to be supported by adequate funding.

“The community sector has played a phenomenal role in supporting the community during the bushfires, the COVID pandemic and now in supporting vaccinations. This is often done without adequate funding or resources, and with little fanfare or attention,” the respondent said.

“The community, politics and the sector would greatly benefit if the government recognized this important contribution, funded it and worked together with the sector to tackle some of our most difficult problems.

Jana Favero, the advocacy officer at the Asylum Seeker Resource Center (ASRC) said there had been many learnings over the past two years, but one thing that would help would be rapid response grants that would give charities the flexibility to spend money quickly in unpredictable environments.

“We may need $100,000 this month for housing and then it could be material assistance. Next month it may be for culturally appropriate vaccine education,” Favero said. at Pro Bono News.

“So I think increased real funding for charities and flexibility in how charities can spend that money with less red tape just to be able to survive will be key.”

Charity staff left with just a little in the tank

As organizations have tried to manage growing and complex demands, ensuring staff wellbeing has been difficult and sometimes completely sidelined.

Favero described 2021 as a “triple whammy year”.

“Staff are burnt out, people’s resilience has been dulled due to the long and constant closures, and on top of that we have increased demand and little or no government support,” she said.

She said that from an operational perspective, ever-changing rules and regulations meant that staff were constantly on their toes.

“We had a number of COVID cases in our building, so that meant having to shut down services,” she said.

“We constantly had to rethink the way we do things…guided by what was best for asylum seekers or refugees, but also for our staff and volunteers.

She said that the constant fight against government laws such as proposed amendments to the Political Activists Bill and proposed crackdown on charity advocacy were additional and unwanted stress.

“We are trying to provide services to asylum seekers who have been unable to access safety nets with exhausted and exhausted staff, and at the same time we must fight an attack on the ability of charities to advocate,” she said.

Hope for the future

While the arrival of the Omicron variant on Australian shores threw a wrench in the country’s COVID-19 recovery work, the report said there was still time to course correct, but it depended on a more “collaborative and reliable” partnership between the community sector and government.

Favero echoed that sentiment, saying charities needed to feel supported as they entered an unpredictable third year.

“I would invite Anne Ruston, Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison to come and visit charities on the ground and see what’s really going on,” she said.

“Because it is unrealistic to continue to expect charities to operate in this way.”

Read a full copy of report.