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By John Kelly.
Published on the VCOSS Voice on 7 May 2014.
The State Budget funds large infrastructure projects as its main headline, which will generate jobs and improve public transport services.
However, we need to build on this investment to make sure every Victorian has the opportunity to participate in the community and escape poverty. This Budget is a good start, but there is more to do.
If we want to live in a Victoria without poverty we also need to invest in the essential services that help people overcome disadvantage.
The forecast surplus in the coming year shows there is room to build on this Budget and invest in prevention to stop social problems before they occur, rather than lurching from crisis to crisis.
In the lead-up to November’s State Election Victorians will expect to see greater investment in the social programs that underpin our shared vision and values of who we are and what we want to achieve as a society.
There are many positive social spending initiatives in this Budget, including:
However, there are a number of pressing concerns that still need to be addressed, including:
The Real Effective Change Table shows the change in real expenditure per capita for selected expenditure areas (i.e. the budget figures have been adjusted for population growth and inflation). Figures do not include the Early Childhood National Partnership Agreement, or the Commonwealth contribution to the National Partnership on Homelessness.
The biggest drop in spending on social programs was in education support where we saw a 12 per cent fall.
Much of this fall was accounted for by the abolition from next year of the Education Maintenance Allowance – which helps families meet the costs of ensuring students can participate in education.
It is used to pay for things like books, school shoes, excursions and other basic education costs.
This means the Government has 6 months to act before more than 200,000 Victorian students lose support to pay for the books, uniforms and technology they need.
That is roughly one-in-four students across the Primary and Secondary school systems.
This Budget allocates almost half-a-billion dollars go towards expanding jails and creating more prison beds. This is further evidence of the government’s wrong thinking when it comes to justice.
Social problems that lead to criminal behaviour cannot be solved by locking people in shipping containers.
If we saw a similar level of investment in the programs and services that all the evidence shows are the most effective means of reducing crime and turning lives around – we would create a genuinely safer community.
Instead we will be paying for these expensive jails for decades to come and the social cost of working with the thousands of people whose lives are broken by prison will be borne by the whole community.
Violence against women by partners or ex-partners is the biggest contributor to ill health, disability and death for Victorian women aged 15-44.
Given the seriousness of this issue and the overwhelming community demand for an effective response we think the government has missed an opportunity to show leadership and a strong commitment to addressing violence against women and their children.
VCOSS welcomes new investment which will help relevant services undertake effective risk assessment through the expansion of the Common Risk Assessment Framework (CRAF). The expansion of the Multi-agency high risk management programs for high risk perpetrators is also positive.
However, there is no new funding in this budget to directly assist the majority of women and children escaping violence.
To achieve a real reduction in violence against women and children we need to support women and children to remain safe in their homes after separation when they are at greatest risk, and a comprehensive primary prevention plan.
VCOSS has warmly welcomed Victoria’s commitment to the National Partnership on Homelessness; to fund refurbishing and maintaining public housing – reflecting the Government’s social housing framework; and also funding the third Youth Foyer, to operate in Shepparton.
However there is no funding to increase the levels of social housing stock in Victoria, which is desperately required to help reduce homelessness and stop increasing levels of rental stress among low-income households.
With 22,000 people homeless on any given night in Victoria, including more than 5,000 children, and almost 34,000 people on the waiting list for public housing we need to do more.
Over the next few days VCOSS snapshots detailing what the Budget means for social portfolios will be collated on our 2014-15 State Budget Breakdown page.
John Kelly is the VCOSS Media Coordinator