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Difficult times to continue for Australia’s most vulnerable

Last night the Treasurer brought down a difficult budget for difficult times. The budget delivered on jobs creation, major infrastructure investment, and a welcome increase in payment rates for some pensioners.

The historic commitment to paid parenting leave, long overdue in this country, is also welcome and will make a huge difference to young families. But the difficult times will continue for unemployed Australians, many single parents and the community services that support Australia’s most vulnerable people.

The lines of people seeking social services will remain long, and even more people will need to be turned away. According to Access Economics, over 77,000 eligible people a year (including over 10,000 from youth services) were being turned away from social services in an economic boom, when unemployment was less than half of the levels predicted last night by the Government.

But since the start of the economic downturn, the demand for UnitingCare’s services has increased rapidly, with some of our frontline services experiencing a 40% increase last year. Already we are seeing a whole group of new clients who have never before had to turn to social services, and we know the situation will become much worse.

“The reality is that more people will live in disadvantage for longer because the resources just aren’t there to support them,” said Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director of UnitingCare Australia.

“Any nation that allows its most vulnerable to remain in disadvantage is a nation in which everyone is poorer. True nation building must include all Australians.”

The budget was also a missed opportunity to support elderly Australians in aged care. “Increasing the aged pension is a welcome measure, but it only goes part of the way to ensuring older people can live a decent life,” said Ms Hatfield Dodds.

“Older people have a right to a life in which they can meet the costs of living and receive services and supports close to their community.”

In a budget of $44 billion over the next 4 years, the Minister has found less than $750 million additional for aged care – and this is largely generated by extra contributions of around $3 a day from people who are pensioners. There is no extra funding for community-based care or support services.

“This response is an insult to older people and their families,” said Ms Hatfield Dodds.

“The minimum we expected from the budget was enough funding to keep aged care services viable, and the measures announced last night will not achieve this.

"The budget does nothing to address the critical shortages in services for older people, the parlous state of funding for aged care services and the extreme lack of choice faced by older people seeking support to maintain their health and wellbeing. A fundamental structural reform of services for older Australians is needed, as shown by Treasury’s Intergenerational Reports of 2002 and 2007, and by the further work of the Productivity Commission, the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission and the recent Senate Inquiry into Community and Residential Aged Care. We stand ready to work with the Government to design and implement the fundamental reforms required.

“The first step for the Government is to commission the Taskforce arising from the Senate Inquiry and have an independent analysis of the costs of providing care to older people across the range of services they will need as they face increasing disability and frailty.”