- Tackling the digital skills divide to get Victorians into jobs
$3.1m in 2021-22 ($6.2m/2 yrs) to increase places in pre-accredited digital literacy and employability skills training courses delivered by Learn Local providers to enhance the employment prospects of educationally disadvantaged Victorians.
- Maintaining essential energy functions
$16.9m in 2021-22 ($62.9m/4 yrs) to continue funding for a range of programs to maintain a safe, secure and reliable energy system and continue protections for consumers, including the Energy Fairness Plan.
- Addressing the cost of delivering education
$6.1m in 2021-22 ($41.7m/4yrs) in additional funding will be provided to schools for transport costs associated with swimming and water safety education, and for essential materials for students undertaking vocational education and training (VET) subjects as part of senior secondary schooling.
- Good Money
$3.8m in 2021-22 ($14.6/4 yrs) to expand financial services through four shop fronts in Collingwood, Geelong, Dandenong and Morwell. Good Money delivers no interest and low interest loans, low-cost insurance and financial advice to individuals and households facing financial stress. The funding will also enable the development of telephone and digital services and a continuation of financial wellbeing services in bushfire affected communities.
- Rural Financial Counselling Service
$1.9m in 2021-22 ($5.8m/3 yrs) for the state’s contribution to the Rural Financial Counselling Service so it can continue to offer free and impartial advice to farming and related small businesses suffering financial hardship.
- Legal assistance and critical early intervention support services
Last year’s State Budget included a number of welcome initiatives to support Victorian households experiencing both pre-COVID and pandemic-related financial stress. As those initiatives are still being rolled out, this Budget largely focused on targeted expansions or continuations of services helping people in financial hardship.
In particular, funding for the Good Money and WEstjustice Mortgage Stress programs are welcome. The Good Money expansion includes new telephone and online options that will enable about 25,000 more Victorians to access this financial wellbeing service.
VCOSS remains concerned, however, that low-income households entered the pandemic with wafer-thin financial buffers. Raising the ongoing rate of Commonwealth Government income support remains the single most important thing that could be done to substantially and permanently reduce poverty in Victoria.
The financial impacts of the pandemic continue to hit low-income Victorians. Energy concessions help households make ends meet and utility relief grants can be vital in starting the recovery process from a debt spiral. This year’s Budget papers reveal that the Government significantly underestimated the number of Victorians in 2020-21 who would receive these concessions and grants.
As VCOSS noted in our pre-budget submission, there are significant gaps in the concessions system. A wide-ranging review of the adequacy and effectiveness of the state’s concessions system is needed, to close gaps and make sure no one is missing out.
At the same time, the recent COVID-19 circuit-breaker restrictions in Victoria have been a hard reminder that this global pandemic will continue to drive demand for state-level emergency responses. As people continue to struggle to afford the basics, demand for emergency relief, food relief and financial counselling remains high. The Budget contains little new funding to reduce pressure on these services and further investment is required in planning and coordination for the emergency relief sector.
VCOSS’ pre-budget submission also highlighted the need to close the digital divide, another ongoing inequity that the pandemic has brought into sharp focus. New funding for digital literacy and employability skills through Learn Locals is welcome, but it won’t resolve the bigger issues of affordability and access to devices and data, or extend hardship protections to telecommunications consumers. VCOSS is also keen to explore the implications of additional funding for the Victorian Government’s digital government work, particularly to ensure that the insights and perspectives of Victorians experiencing vulnerability and the community sector are incorporated.