The Turnbull Government’s tagline in Tuesday night’s budget touted fairness, opportunity and security for all Australians, but the reality of this statement is of grave concern for vulnerable people and those organisations that support them.
The 2017 budget has resulted in apprehension for what the government intends to do to stop the increase of poverty in Australia, specifically with no commitment to increasing support payments, family tax benefits and expanding the cashless welfare trial and demerit scheme.
This year’s budget has frozen welfare payments at dangerously low levels, ignoring calls from services providers and the welfare sector to consider increases as a matter of priority.
Unfortunately, a lack of increased investment in support payments always has the biggest impact on those who need the most support to break the poverty cycle- children, young people, families and people with a disability. Poverty is not just about money or starvation. It’s about access to appropriate healthcare, affordable and appropriate housing, education and inclusion in society. Many of these issues were not adequately addressed in the budget and payments remain so low that poverty is a real scenario for many.
It’s particularly disappointing to see yet another attempt to reduce family tax benefits which will affect so many Australians who depend on such support. Families are already experiencing financial stress through the ever-increasing costs of living and it is simply unjust for families to assume the burden of balancing the budget for political gain.
While commitment to childcare and schools funding is a good start for families, it falls short of addressing key issues that result in poverty. As an experienced provider of emergency relief services across regional NSW, Samaritans is acutely aware that pressures on families are increasing. Changes in welfare support not only result in a negative impact on vulnerable people, but on providers who quite suddenly experience increased demand for services and support.
This year’s Rental Affordability Snapshot released by Samaritans and Anglicare in April showed that in the past five years, there has been no relief for people seeking affordable rental. We welcomed the budget’s announcement of funding measures to making housing more affordable and address homelessness. The bond aggregator for community housing is great news for the welfare sector.
Samaritans Specialist Homelessness services listed family breakdown, domestic violence and housing affordability and availability stress as the top three reasons for people seeking support in the past 12 months.
The biggest win from the 2017 budget was the government’s move to secure the future of the NDIS through the Medicare Levy and there was also welcome news of investment in the mental health space. News of the government’s commitment to helping people with mental health-related disabilities under the NDIS is a huge win for vulnerable people.
After this budget, we’re looking to the Turnbull Government to truly deliver on their promises of a fair and secure Australia, with adequate opportunity for all.
At Samaritans, we’re encouraging all levels of Government to work together to end the poverty trap and create a safe and secure community for everyone.
Peter Gardiner is the chief executive of the Samaritans Foundation.