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Time for Victoria to share the benefits. . .

28 November 2013
Time for Victoria to share the benefits

One year out from the 2014 State Election the Government needs to direct resources to where they are most needed if all Victorians are going to share in the benefits of a strong State, says the Victorian Council of Social Service.

‘On taking office, Victorian Premier Denis Napthine said he intended to lead a compassionate Government that looks after disadvantaged Victorians and that he wanted all Victorians to share in the benefits of the state,’ said Emma King, CEO of VCOSS.

‘Heading into election-year budget planning, the Government should adopt a social and economic blueprint that can deliver on that promise and which offers the best chance of a prosperous future for the entire State.’

‘Too many Victorians currently miss out on the opportunities that come from living in a prosperous society.  It is time to invest in the social infrastructure and services that can deliver a massive return on investment and give everyone the best chance to share in that prosperity – not just in roads, hospitals and prisons.’

‘Today, close to 1 million people in Victoria, or 20 per cent of the population, are either living below or just above the poverty line. This should be unacceptable in a wealthy country like ours.’

‘The disproportionate focus on tough on crime policies and prisons is diverting resources from where it can be most effective. Over the coming decade Victoria will spend billions of dollars just to maintain its massively expanded prisons population – which does not include the capital costs of building more prisons.’

‘Critical infrastructure and service gaps in Melbourne’s growing outer suburbs and throughout rural and regional Victoria need to be addressed urgently if we are to avoid entrenching disadvantage in those communities.’

‘Victoria should be able to use our growing population and demographic changes to drive innovation and participation to ensure our economy is a powerhouse into the 21st century.’

‘VCOSS has drawn up a list of more than 50 ideas to showcase how smarter spending and more innovative thinking can make a real difference, right now,’ said Emma King.

‘These priority areas are based on the best evidence available and address trends and issues that VCOSS  members are seeing on the ground, delivering frontline community services to the growing number of people who rely on the assistance of community organisations.’

‘In following these initiatives the State Government could deliver significant social benefits to the whole community while at the same time improving the budget bottom line by diverting critical resources away from expensive crisis responses to social problems.’

‘Good social policy is also good economic policy. Excluding some Victorians from participation in the economy not only risks more social problems but also means lost productive capacity and fewer jobs.’

‘If we believe that all Victorians should share in the benefits of a strong State we need to act. This report proposes solutions to achieve that action.’

‘The challenge in the 2014-15 State Budget is to share the benefits by creating a stronger society, a stronger economy and offer real opportunity to all Victorians.’

More than 50 ideas for smarter spending and more innovative thinking

VCOSS has developed a social and economic blueprint which identifies more than 50 ideas to give Victorians the best opportunity to share in the benefits of living in this State. These include:

Target help with education costs so disadvantaged students can fully participate

Across Victoria many families are unable to pay for the costs of education such books, uniforms and excursions. Recent changes to the Federal/State schools funding model mean many families on low incomes no longer get assistance to pay the extra costs of education that they could not afford. This means vulnerable students will now miss out.

A new initiative is required to ensure we support students from low-income families do not miss out on education.

Fund the Commission for Children and Young People to fulfil its mandate

The Commission for Children and Young People has a significant role to play to support fundamental reforms stemming from the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry. The Commission has significant powers, including an intensive monitoring and oversight role.

These powers need to be matched with appropriate resourcing to ensure the Commission fulfils its mandate and protects Victoria’s most vulnerable children and young people.

Expand community services in rural and regional Victoria and in growth areas

Many Victorian communities, particularly in rural and regional areas and outer metropolitan growth areas, have no support services or only very limited ones. VCOSS members struggle to cope with demand for mental health services, alcohol or other drug services, financial counselling and support and emergency relief.

Expand vital services to where they are most needed to ensure no Victorians miss out on opportunities merely because of where they live.

Expand prevention, rapid-rehousing and permanent support to end homelessness

Homelessness in Victoria is getting worse. Specialist homelessness services in Victoria responded to 78,000 people seeking assistance in 2011-12, up from 68,500 in 2010-11, of whom more than a third were escaping family violence. Our members tell us that homelessness agencies are overwhelmed with demand, with some experiencing long queues of people simply to see a worker let alone get access to housing.

We know that we can end homelessness through: intervening early to sustain tenancies; rapidly re-housing people who become homeless to stop them becoming stuck in a homelessness cycle; providing permanent supportive housing for those who have experienced chronic homelessness.

More bus services in under-serviced parts of Victoria

Victorians living in the outer suburbs, growth areas, and in rural and regional Victoria do not have the same levels of bus service as people living in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. Investment in public transport has multiple benefits – it helps people connect with jobs, education and crucial services supports, reduces congestion on already crowded roads, and improves health.

The State Government should expand the frequency and coverage of bus services in areas with low service levels.

Fund a state-wide court based diversion program for young people

Diversion options for young people need to be available at every point through the justice continuum – from early interaction with the police through to attending court. There is currently no state-wide court based diversion program for young people in Victoria.

Fund a state-wide court based diversion program to keep young people out of jails.

Respond to escalating family violence reports with more support

The rapid increase in reports of family violence has not been accompanied by the resources required to respond to the demand. The Government needs to invest in what works across the police, court and community services systems to effectively respond to people needing help.

Expand the range of services and supports available to respond to incidents of family violence.

You can read the full list of priorities here: Sharing the Benefits

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Emma King with Emma King
please contact Ryan Sheales on 0418 127 153

Follow the conversation at www.twitter.com/vcoss

Level 8, 128 Exhibition Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
T: 03 9235 1000 F: 03 9654 5749 W: http://www.vcoss.org.au E: vcoss@vcoss.org.au