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Community organisations need relief from ‘stealth’ funding cuts

Many Victorians have either benefitted from the help of a community organisation, or know someone who has.

This help might come from a financial counselling service, community health centre, Neigbourhood House, domestic violence refuge, or some other community organisation where people who are struggling can get free, confidential help and advice.

We know community services are vital: they keep us safe, well and strong, and help individuals, families and communities to thrive.

The State Government is responsible for funding community organisations.

So far, so good.

But what happens when the cost of doing business goes up, and funding doesn’t keep pace?

We all know that life is getting more expensive: inflation, big bills and the rising costs of living. These are some of the pressures pushing more Victorians into financial hardship, often exacerbating mental and physical ill health.

Community organisations are not immune from these same cost pressures.

These organisations, and the important services they provide, are jeopardised when the amount of government funding does not keep up with rising costs, especially the cost of employing high-quality staff.

When this happens, funding shortfalls might lead to organisations having to cut back the number of days or hours they can be open to the public. It might mean rushing services, extending waiting times or tightening eligibility criteria.

These are tangible impacts that lead to less support for vulnerable Victorians, and the trend that is unsustainable.

For a variety of reasons – mental and physical illness, financial and housing stress, precarious and low-paid employment – more and more people are being pushed to the edge.

Community service organisations don’t want to have to cut corners in the vital work of pulling them back.

That’s why they need fair funding to do the crucial work they’re trained for.

With fair and appropriate funding that keeps up with wage increases and cost pressures, organisations can not only keep the lights on, they can invest in new approaches.

These organisations will be able to attract and retain suitable staff with a range of qualifications, experience and backgrounds to provide assistance to an increasing number of people facing increasingly complex constellations of issues.

There are some massive social reforms underway at the moment, which the Victorian community is embracing: a new cultural conversation around mental health, including prevention and early intervention; reforms in the family violence space that will help women and children stay safe, recover from trauma and thrive; changes to NDIS and aged care, and many others.

The breadth of this reform agenda speaks volumes about the Victorian Government’s commitment and vision in social policy.

But unless we have a strong, healthy and well-funded community sector–with funding tied to the true and growing costs of delivering services–the promise of these reforms won’t be fully realised.

Community organisations want to be fully equipped for the work they do in Victorian communities.

They just need fair funding, allowing them to get on with the job.

The call for indexation of community services funding appears in A State Of Wellbeing, VCOSS’s formal submission to the Victorian Government ahead of the 2020 state budget.

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