Federal Budget leaves the nation’s vulnerable “high and dry”, say community peak bodies

Posted 3 years ago by Emily Erickson
Low income Australians, including those on the Disability Support Pension, are set to receive a $500 handout from December. [Source:iStock]
Low income Australians, including those on the Disability Support Pension, are set to receive a $500 handout from December. [Source:iStock]

Low income Australians, including those on the Disability Support Pension, are set to receive a $500 handout from December – a welcome but ‘band-aid’ outcome of the 2020-21 Federal Budget according to peak body representatives.

About 5.1 million Australians on lower incomes will receive two separate $250 Economic Support Payments, to be delivered progressively from December 2020 to Age Pensioners, Disability Support Pensioners, eligible veterans, concession cardholders and other social security recipients. 

According to Anglicare Australia Executive Director Kasy Chambers, the Federal Budget, announced on 6 October, has left people on the lowest incomes high and dry and is a lost opportunity to fix financial issues facing the country’s most vulnerable.

“People on low incomes are on the frontline of this downturn. Many are losing their incomes, and too many are scared of losing their homes,” Ms Chambers says.

“1.6 million Australians are out of work. With this downturn due to last for years and so many Australians losing their jobs, record numbers of people are at risk of poverty and homelessness.”

“No-brainer” supports overlooked

Ms Chambers says simple solutions to these problems could have included raising the rate of JobSeeker payments for good, and investing in social housing. 

“One-off payments to people on the age and disability pensioners will provide some relief, but they don’t go far enough,” she says. 

“We already know that JobSeeker has given a badly needed boost to the economy – people have been spending their payments on food, transport, and essentials for their families. We also know that most people who get tax cuts will save them instead of spending them.”

“Instead of locking in the benefits of the JobSeeker boost, the Government is phasing in cuts that will hurt everyone – and bringing a black hole into the Budget for decades to come.”

Ms Chambers says building social housing is a “no-brainer” and would have kept a roof over people’s heads when many needed it most. 

“Investing in shovel-ready projects across the country would have boosted construction by $15.7 billion, grown gross domestic product (GDP) by $6.7 billion, and created 24,500 jobs in the regions that need them the most.”

“Investing in housing and incomes is a no-brainer. We will keep calling for action to make the economy work for everyone.”

Every Australian Counts Campaign Director Kirsten Deane says while the $500 payment is welcome, it isn’t enough to make a lasting difference for people with disability. 

“We know that many people with disability and their families have struggled to make ends meet as a result of extra costs brought on by the COVID19 pandemic and lockdowns. We know it won’t go far,” she says.

Push for greater focus on accessible jobs for people with disability

Director Policy and Advocacy at People with Disability Australia (PWDA) Romola Hollywood says the peak body would have liked to see a greater focus on accessible employment in the Budget. 

“It’s well recognised that people with disability face multiple barriers to finding and keeping paid work,” Ms Hollywood says.

“Without targeted measures, in a tightening labour market, people with disability will continue to be excluded from mainstream employment. This budget has missed a critical opportunity to turn the tables, and that is a shame.”

PWDA has called for a National Jobs Plan to address the ongoing underrepresentation of people with disability in mainstream employment.

“We welcome the Government’s announcement of a wage subsidy scheme to help young people find a job, however, we would also like to see incentives for employers to employ more young people with disability.”

In PWDA’s survey on the experiences of people with disability during COVID-19, more than 91 percent of respondents reported increased expenses for basics such as groceries, medical supplies and transport.  

“This latest top-up of two $250 payments does very little to cover the unexpected costs our community have incurred during the pandemic,” says Ms Hollywood.

2020-21 Federal Budget and the NDIS 

The 2020-21 Federal Budget outlined $3.9 billion in National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding to provide ‘life changing support’ to 400,000 people living with disability.

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Ms Hollywood says while PWDA welcomes the funding increase, they would like to see a more detailed breakdown on how funds will be allocated. 

“PWDA acknowledges the increased funding which we understand reflects the natural growth of the scheme as it rolls out,” she says. 

“We have learnt from the tragic death of Ann-Marie Smith that strengthening safeguards for people with disability to prevent violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation is an urgent priority, and we hope that the additional funding for the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission will be used to develop a proactive approach to investigations and spot checks on NDIS providers.”

Ms Deane says while NDIS forward estimates have increased from last year’s budget, a lot is riding on whether the Government and National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) have correctly predicted future funding needs. 

“Every year the scheme gets a little bit bigger – there are more people in the scheme, and a little bit of inflation and wage growth means things can cost more,” she says. 

“But, what the figures also show (in the Government’s Social Services portfolio) is that…once they are sure NDIS transition is finished, the funding pretty much flatlines.”

“That will only work if the Government and NDIA have accurately analysed and predicted everyone’s likely support needs and correctly factored that in. If they are wrong, then plans will be cut back regardless of what people actually need, which is obviously not a good thing.”

You can view an overview of the 2020-21 Federal Budget here.