Australia’s vital community services face funding uncertainty crisis

The Australian Council of Social Service today urged the Federal Government to make funding certain for vital community organisations, in the wake of an alarming survey revealing almost nine in ten organisations (87%) have no guarantee of key funding for services beyond June 2014.

The survey run by ACOSS in conjunction with the Community Council for Australia (CCA) and NetBalance and distributed through Pro Bono Australia – shows that Australia’s Not for Profit sector is in crisis with the lack of funding certainty forcing agencies to lay off staff and unable to fill vacancies.

“The results are indeed disturbing with only 13 per cent of organisations reporting that they have settled funding arrangements, which is impacting on their ability to keep staff and stretching services, providing vital support to the most vulnerable members of our community,” said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.

“It’s simply not good enough that within months of contracts expiring and funding drying up that so many groups remain in the dark about the viability of their service and the continuation of important community programs.

“The ongoing uncertainty is having a serious impact across the country, with service management unable to plan, and staff increasingly anxious. Valued workers are under pressure to start looking for new jobs, with many not knowing if they will be employed in just a few months. Whilst we can’t establish the exact number of clients and staff who are affected, it is clearly in the thousands.

“It’s time the Government put an end to all this uncertainty and immediately signal its ongoing commitment to funding these crucial services. Services that ACOSS is aware of that are facing this uncertainty include, employment services to unemployed young people, financial counselling for low income people in financial stress, and health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, among others.

“Just like business, the not-for-profit sector needs the certainty of funding to drive confidence, leading to longer term planning, investments in people and operational assets to foster productivity and growth.

“In contrast the lack of confidence leads to short term planning and potential inefficiencies as uncertainty creates churn in the workforce and a lack of investment leading to low productivity and stagnation and decline. Sadly this is the current situation, and is happening at the same time that more people will need these services due to the economic down turn. It can only exacerbate the national economic picture at a time when we are trying to lift our economic fortunes.

“Australia’s 600,000 not-for-profit organisations play an enormous role in society, not only in supporting some of most disadvantaged people in our community, but also as a large and growing employer (6.8% in 1999-2000 to 8.5% in 2006-07). Our sector contributes more than $40 billion annually to gross domestic product and shouldn’t be underestimated or undervalued,” said Dr Goldie.