Chapter 3 focused on the two over-arching principles that are fundamental to the delivery of successful programs for people living with entrenched disadvantage. This chapter discusses when to target welfare assistance to maximise its impact. The Committee heard that timely, focused interventions are both most beneficial and most cost effective.
This chapter focuses on when intervention and prevention can be best targeted. The first part of this chapter discusses the times over a life course that welfare assistance is most beneficial, and the second part discusses the expenditure areas that are, broadly, the most useful in preventing disadvantage becoming entrenched.
The Committee received evidence that highlighted the importance of transition phases that occur in each person’s life. Life changes such as getting married, divorced, becoming a parent, starting and leaving school, getting or losing a job, or having an illness can be opportunities to provide targeted welfare that prevents entrenched disadvantage.
Pre-natal and parenthood
The Committee heard that a successful start to life, even from the point of conception, has a disproportionately beneficial impact. In a report by the Department of Social Services, Stronger Outcomes for Families 2018, it states:
Learning for children occurs long before they first step into an early childhood education centre or a school. It happens during the first years of a child’s life, with their parents and families teaching them critical sensory, motor learning, mental, physical and social capabilities. Shifting the long-term trajectories of children can be most effective during this prenatal and early childhood period as the foundations for development are established.
For example, in a child’s first three years of life, their brain grows from approximately 25 per cent to 80-90 per cent of adult size. This period is also one of intense change for families, as they commit to learning new approaches and adapting to the changes in family dynamics a new child brings.
Competing demands can place significant time and resource pressures on families. However, there is a significant positive impact on the outcomes for children when families commit to creating a stimulating learning environment and parents are engaged in their education. Skills acquired from families form the basis for skill development later in that child’s life.
Parents and families have the most direct and lasting impact on children’s learning outcomes. Creating an environment that allows children to learn and parents being positive learning role models help children to have the capacity to learn and be ready for school. Our services can assist to build parents skills, education and confidence to ensure their children are school ready and have the capacity to learn.
This view was reinforced by Ms Kim Brooklyn of UnitingCare West who commented:
Certainly there is evidence around prenatal conditions around brain development, let alone the cognitive capacity post birth.
The report Fair progress, economic mobility across generations around the world 2018, stated that:
Maternal disadvantage associated with the socioeconomic status (SES) of mothers related to differences in education, income, and other circumstances such as race and marital status leads to poorer health among the children at birth through four key channels: poor health behaviours during the prenatal period; greater exposure to harmful environmental factors; lower access to medical care, including family planning services; and poorer maternal health, including nutrition.
Professor Ribar from the Life Course Centre commented that the entry into parenthood is a critical phase requiring support:
There are lots of things that you can paper over in your relationship when there's no child present that somebody has to respond to once a child is there, and lots of couples find that their relationship deteriorates for a while right around the birth of the first child. So that's actually a family relation intervention point. One of the surprising findings from other countries is that nurse visitation programs often not only help somebody to be a better parent but help couples to be better couples.
Ms Penny Wright, Guardian for the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People, raised the importance of programs identifying mothers who are pregnant and at risk. Ms Wright commented on the merits of a program that recently combined resources from several areas to create the Bumps to Beyond program. She said the following support was critical to new mums, especially if specialised support services were required:
… mental health, drug and alcohol support, medical services and everything—to support young women who attended from when they first had their pregnancies confirmed and to walk alongside them and support them right through until the baby was born and perhaps afterwards and beyond.
Further, Ms Wright stated:
What I do know is that they recommend that resourcing and funding appropriate supports for families at risk of entering the child protection system antenatally, before the child is even born, and during infancy is crucial for a child's development and wellbeing. They say that early intervention can reduce disorders that develop during pregnancy and if harm can be prevented early—and an obvious one would be FASD, but there are lots of others of course including nutrition—the cognitive, social, emotional and physical impacts can also be prevented and can have a lasting lifetime effect on families.
Logan Together commented there was a lack of women accessing ante natal care. Logan Together identified this as an area of concern and as a problem to be addressed:
Ninety per cent of kids have no health checks before school. Two years ago 12 per cent of women had little or no antenatal care. With half of that cohort—half that 12 per cent—about 300 of the 600 women who get little antenatal care their first episode of health care was when they turned up to give birth. This is the territory we're in at the moment—doing the things that are indisputable in terms of what makes the difference for kids, but getting them to people.
Parents as first teachers
Parenting programs have an important role to play in promoting positive child development. The principles of positive parenting are based on providing a safe, engaging and positive learning environment for children, and recognising that raising children is a shared parental responsibility.
Quality parenting and nurturing for children provides a positive outlook for each child’s life chances. Caregivers need education, time and support to ensure a child’s good health and wellbeing.
Research points to the critical importance of parents as first teachers. Early intervention programs have been developed to address early disadvantage. The Department of Social Services (DSS) informed the Committee that young parents were a priority group as education and employment options were disrupted for young mothers. DSS stated:
Having a baby at a young age can disrupt education and increase the barriers to finding and keeping a job. This can lead to long-term welfare dependency and poorer life outcomes for young parents and their children. It is important to help young parents for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their children.
In its submission the Life Course Centre highlighted this issue:
Life Course Centre research shows certain groups, such as young mothers who are not in employment, education or training, are more likely to experience disadvantage with flow-on effects for their children. Social interventions that improve opportunities for young mothers have the potential to be doubly advantageous by also improving the opportunities for their children. Early interventions in life course pathways are key to preventing and reducing life-long and intergenerational disadvantage.
In addition, the Life Course Centre research also found that ‘more educated parents spend more time with children than less educated parents and moreover, that educated parents tailor their time with children to favour activities that are particularly important at different developmental stages – a finding that has been termed the “developmental gradient”. This provides strong evidence that parenting practices shape socio-economic outcomes and the transmission of (dis)advantage, with important implications for understanding social stratification processes, as well as ways of intervening to improve outcomes for children.’
In a report from 2016 the Department of Social Services discussed some statistical findings of risks for young parents:
Statistics show that children of young parents are more likely to grow up without a father, be of low birth weight, have lower levels of emotional support and cognitive stimulation, show lower academic achievement later on including a higher risk of repeating a grade at school, and be less prepared to enter school. They also have a greater risk of socio-emotional problems, have higher rates of foster care placement, be more likely to be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, have lower educational achievement or leave school early be a teen parent themselves and be unemployed or underemployed as an adult.
DSS is running a program over 24 months that supports Expecting and Parenting Teens with a $4 million budget across Australia. There are targeted areas in Victoria, Tasmania, Northern Territory, NSW and Queensland along with a nationwide online program.
Positive Parenting Program (PPP)
Positive parenting programs also have a crucial role to play in promoting positive child development. According to Professor Matt Sanders of the Life Course Centre, children who are raised in a positive parenting environment do better at school, make friends more easily and are less likely to have emotional and behavioural problems as they age.
Making such programs easily accessible to all families can improve the knowledge, skills and confidence of parents; empowering them to participate in the planning, decision-making and example-setting that impacts on their children.
For example, the Every Family project is a current Life Course Centre study examining the effectiveness of the Triple P - Positive Parenting Program in 38 disadvantaged communities in Queensland:
Triple P has been extensively evaluated around the world and found to produce more consistent and better parenting and child outcomes. However, our study is innovative because we are interested in how well Triple P works in highly disadvantaged communities, and we also want to see whether there are community level effects of a widespread program rollout. In particular, if you get a certain level of community ‘saturation’ of the program, do benefits spill-over to families who don’t directly receive the parenting program, and can we see these benefits reflected in better outcomes at the community level?
Professor Baxter noted the benefit of the Triple P Parenting program being tiered intervention:
It's a tiered level of intervention, which can be as little as a pamphlet in a mailbox right through to very targeted interventions with very difficult children. So I don't think it has to be costly. Once basic infrastructure is in place, it can be rolled out. The Queensland government has made Triple P available to any family that wants to take it up in Queensland, so it's being rolled out across the state, but not every family will go along to a seminar or have service providers come into their home. Some might just read a pamphlet or look at something online. If middle-class families who might just need a bit of reassurance can have a phone number that they can call if they've got questions, that can be quite cost-effective, and, tiered in that way, it can be universal. Not everybody needs the same sort of intervention.
Receiving a quality education is an important contributor to avoiding entrenched disadvantage. Evidence received from submissions and transcripts supports the role of education as an important predictor of an individual’s future employment, income, health and welfare outcomes.
Educational attainment is strongly correlated with parental educational achievement. In its submission, Save the Children commented that:
… an individual’s chance to do better than parents in education can depend ranking on the social ladder and a parent’s level of educational attainment. For example, children will only have a 13 per cent chance to attain tertiary education, if their parents did not attain upper secondary education while they would be four times more likely to attend university if at least one parent had attained tertiary qualifications.
At the same time, parental engagement in their child’s education is very important to the child’s educational success. The Smith Family noted that research points to the fact that ‘you don’t need to be Einstein to be involved in your children’s education.’
Research by Nobel Economist James Heckman and his colleague Flavio Cunha (2007), shows that efforts aimed at improving the educational outcomes of disadvantaged young people are most cost effective when they involve balanced long-term support across a young person’s life:
Investment distributed over the first two decades of a child’s life, produces more adult skills than the same level of investment focused on one part of a young person’s life, for example the early years or adolescence. A sustained and early intervention approach is also far more cost effective than remedial efforts aimed at preparing adults for the workforce.
The Committee heard that there are times during an individual’s education when targeted assistance is particularly effective. These are discussed below.
Preventing early school leaving
Improving educational outcomes for all individuals on income support has been identified as key in that it provides better future employment options. Early intervention is critical, particularly to avoid early school leaving and ensure that a young adult stays in formal education as long as possible.
Save the Children commented that:
To improve social mobility and avoid inequality of opportunity, interventions to support this outcome need to occur throughout a child’s life from early education, to formal education and to deter early school leaving. We know the non-completion of school or failure to gain other post-secondary qualifications substantially increases the risk of young people not making a successful transition into full time employment. Lack of qualifications means that workers are more likely to be unskilled with flow on effects including: higher unemployment rates, higher take up of welfare benefits and larger participation rates in labour market programs.
The Smith Family also addressed the importance of supporting disadvantaged young people to remain engaged in education:
Australian children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are at risk of poor educational outcomes from their first year of school, and this risk increases as they move through school. The clearest pathway to breaking cycles of intergenerational disadvantage is to support children and young people to develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours that set them up for participating in the complex employment market of the 21st century.
The Committee received numerous examples of early intervention programs being run throughout Australia. The Smith Family reports that ‘[s]eventy per cent of the children we support live in a household where there is no adult in the labour force.’
The Smith Family highlighted its Learning for Life program which supports 43 000 children:
The Learning for Life program is a scholarship not a welfare payment and the agreement articulates a shared commitment to the student’s participation in education including compliance requirements on both parties. The scholarship takes the children right through to the completion of year 12 and onwards to tertiary education where possible. This is a long-term initiative that can support a person for 17 years or more. The current Advancement Rate is 69.2 per cent, or close to seven in 10 students.
The Learning for Life program right through to completion has a success rate of 80 per cent:
So for our young people who are on our Learning for Life scholarship program, four out of five of them are in work or study 12 months after leaving the program.
Transitioning into higher education
The Committee heard evidence about the challenges of transitioning from Year 12 into higher education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Smith Family discussed the importance of supporting students to move into higher education. This support service is especially important in families where the parents have not had a tertiary education:
Our experience is that it's really challenging for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to stay engaged in tertiary education without the right supports and that they struggle to understand how to access those supports, even with that support in place. So our partnerships with tertiary institutions are around us inserting them—so supporting them to engage with the support network that's actually available to them, because there are good support networks in universities but the kids struggle to access.
The Committee was interested to hear evidence about support programs assisting young people to transition into TAFE colleges. Ms Field from The Smith Family said:
There are particular issues with the TAFE system across Australia at the moment—a legacy of, I suppose, recent policy and funding arrangements. But we're in discussion with a number of TAFEs around how we support disadvantaged kids to get beyond year 1 of TAFE, because their dropout rates are shocking at this point in time. So again it's working side by side to help young people to access the supports that are actually available in those institutions if they can find the right entry door.
Relocating interstate and the education system
Children are also at risk of slipping through the cracks due to a lack of data sharing about their education when they move interstate.
Families who are struggling to make ends meet may relocate interstate to get family support, for work, to look for more affordable housing or to escape from family violence.
Moving schools, changing curriculum and losing social networks can be disruptive for children. Educational information does not always transfer to the new school. For example, the Committee heard that low school attendance rate data is not provided to inter-state schools.
The Smith Family noted that 20 per cent of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients have high levels of mobility as well as many families from low socio-economic backgrounds. Ms Hampshire provided some possible reasons for high mobility:
… for low-income families, it's often because of rental pressure or the like, family breakdown or domestic violence, and that's very problematic for children because it interrupts the educational journey—not only the learning journey but the social journey.
Currently Australian States and Territories do not share data tracking for education attendance and achievement:
So, if you are a student in New South Wales, you might have attendance data and achievement data, but, if you then move to WA, that doesn't go with you. It's one of the recommendations which has been agreed by COAG since 2009. It's been reinforced in the recent Gonski review. It is an important foundational piece we would advocate, both so that individual students can be tracked but also so that we can actually assess any of our public policy interventions which aim to influence attendance or achievement.
Employment is one of the key routes out of poverty. Employment provides economic, social and health benefits. The Committee received evidence about the supports necessary for individuals and families living with entrenched disadvantage when trying to gain employment.
Australian Government data shows that it is more likely than not, that a person who has grown-up in a parental welfare dependent family, will become welfare dependent themselves. In Australia, by the age of 25 years, 90 per cent of children who experienced childhood in a family of very high parental welfare dependence will have interacted with the welfare system in their own right.
There are multiple factors for why a young person struggles to find employment. Although the intergenerational correlation does not necessarily indicate causation, it may be that young people who have not been exposed to employed adults during childhood have a limited understanding of how to secure and keep work.
Policy makers in many OECD countries have used parental joblessness, where children live with parents who are not employed, as a key indicator of severe childhood disadvantage. In Australia, parental joblessness is a leading cause of childhood poverty.
Ms Anne- Marie Mioche, Chief Executive Officer, CatholicCare Wilcannia-Forbes described to the Committee the challenges of living Wilcannia and Forbes and looking for work:
Where we work, co-design with the community is the place I would start. Our best programs are ideas that have come out of the community; they know what the solutions are. I think that applies to future employment opportunities or any government policy that looks to lessening welfare dependency. So that is probably the first element, I would say. Where we operate, often there are no jobs. If government is going to be serious about ending welfare dependency in those areas, then you have to create jobs.
In our case, that means we often have to employ people who have no skills, no CV, no experience of what it is like to be in a workplace and sometimes not even a birth certificate. We give them a job and then we start the process of training and so on. By giving someone a job, you are creating a sense of hope, a sense of purpose and a sense of having a future in an organisation. Schemes like the CDP, where people's benefits are cut if they don't participate, don't create a sense of hope.
Life Course Centre research shows certain groups, such as young mothers who are not in employment, education or training, are more likely to experience disadvantage with flow on effects for their children.
Analysis of the Paid Parental Leave Scheme introduced in 2011 showed that the success of paid parental leave in keeping mothers in the labour force and in their previous employment is dependent on the availability of good and affordable childcare.
Supporting parents to maintain labour force attachment when their children are very young through provision of paid parental leave, supporting men to share care, and ensuring high-quality childcare is available for children when parents return to work, is instrumental in keeping as many parents as possible in the labour force.
Not everyone looking for employment is ready or has the capacity to work full-time. A more flexible labour market and working arrangements accommodating personal circumstances, work readiness and family commitments is needed. Young parents need different work options; for example supported volunteering, part-time and full-time employment.
The Committee heard that an important area of targeted assistance is for the long-term unemployed. After a lengthy period of unemployment, individuals face additional barriers to employment. These include loss of skills, loss of confidence, and resistance from employers.
The Salvation Army stressed the need for additional subsidies and realistic incentives for employers to address existing barriers to employment. For example, additional financial assistance for income support recipients to access education and training, coverage of transport costs to training and work, subsidising of housing in higher employment areas, increased benefits and flexible arrangements for quality childcare may alleviate some of the practical challenges people experience when looking for work.
The Salvation Army stated that assisting people who have been out of work for long periods of time need longer term support:
For us, a response from government through job-service providers and people and support is to that local, individualised, longer-term casework. You mentioned mentoring before. We find that for some longer term entrenched people who are unemployed sometimes it takes about three or four goes for them to get a job that they can actually hold down for longer than four months, because they're still in the process of trying to understand what it means to work, what it means to be responsible, what it means to show up every day, what it means when they've had a problem to just not storm out and walk out, which is the way their lives have been conditioned.
Availability of entry level jobs
In order for a person to gain employment there must be jobs available. The 2017 Jobs Availability Snapshot, commissioned by Anglicare, shows that there has been good growth in full-time employment in Australia for some time. However people who face barriers to employment need to be supported by the right programs to access these jobs.
Anglicare’s Snapshot report demonstrates that there are many more people in Australia applying for entry-level work than there are jobs suitable for them:
What we can say is that the central finding is borne out - that there is consistently many more jobseekers needing entry-level jobs than there are suitable jobs available.
Mr Roland Manderson, Anglicare continued to explain this barrier into the workforce:
There are more people who need the jobs than there are jobs available, and there are other people who could get other jobs but are also applying for the same low-skill entry-level jobs because it suits them, because they're at university or whatever else. In the city it might seem that there are more jobs around; the reality is that people who are excluded from the workforce … are still going to find it hard whether they’re in the city or country.
The Committee is supportive of welfare programs that target those who need it most, at the times that it can be of most help. The Committee notes again the complexity of the many compounding factors that contribute to disadvantage. As discussed in the previous chapter, in many cases an individualised person-centred response is the most effective, including follow up support for an extended period of time. The Committee considers that these responses should be provided at life phases of key risk.
The Committee considers that young parents who have had their education and employment prospects disrupted to have a child should be provided with ongoing and targeted wrap-around services. These wrap-around services should provide individuals with support and pathways into further education, work readiness skills, childcare assistance and employment pathways.
The Committee recognises the importance of providing pregnant women with appropriate levels of social support and healthcare. However it is also important to ensure young parents have links with the education and employment sector. This will give options for further study and work as their children grow.
The Committee understands that transitioning people who have been receiving long-term welfare support requires significant resources to enable individuals to transition into successful long-term employment. Finding the right job in the right location with employment availability are just some of the challenges that need to be overcome.
The Committee is concerned with the research that demonstrates that there are not enough low skilled jobs available throughout Australia. The Committee recognises that the digital transformation of the economy has eroded many low skilled jobs. The Committee believes it is critical to provide further training and support to certain cohorts and upskill them into available long term jobs.
Long-term funding for education support is critical for supporting children out of welfare support and into employment. The Committee commends The Smith Family’s commitment and long-term strategy to assist children to obtain year 12 certificates and transition into further education or vocational training.
Data sharing between states and territories will enable some children to be better supported rather than falling through the cracks as parents move inter-state. The Committee was informed that currently school attendance records are not shared between states and territories.
The Committee believes this basic data should be shared between all states and territories. This will enable the Australian Government to provide better targeted services to children in need.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government immediately work through COAG to implement the agreed COAG recommendation from 2009 that all educational data sets including school attendance records should be shared between all states and territories.
As well as times during a person’s life where welfare assistance can have the most impact, the Committee heard that there are also certain areas of expenditure where assistance can provide multiple benefits. These three areas – housing, healthcare and financial literacy – are discussed further below.
Affordable and safe housing for people in receipt of welfare is a critical component of wellbeing. Suitable housing is an essential precursor to further education, training or employment.
During the inquiry the Committee received evidence that highlighted the fact that housing instability is a barrier for people receiving long-term welfare support.
The Salvation Army commented that ‘housing is a very integral part of relieving the cycle of poverty. This means access to affordable and sustainable housing. Without housing, getting people out of this cycle is almost impossible, so it's a major issue… ’
SYC highlighted the prevalence of homelessness and housing instability for those on long term welfare support:
For SYC, we seek to work with individuals and families prior to a crisis point. If this is not possible, we often work with a young person experiencing homelessness, from this crisis point to become stable and secure in their life. Only then can we begin to work towards independence. SYC’s ultimate goal in working with Australians is to support them to secure private rental accommodation and be self-sufficient because they have employment.
The Committee heard from SYC about its HYPA Housing model that is providing housing support for young people at risk of homelessness:
Today, the HYPA Housing model provides a young person at risk of homelessness, up to a 24-month lease paid for with rent set at 30 per cent of their income. The compact whilst living in HYPA Housing, other than paying your rent and being a responsible tenant, is that a young person must be engaged in learning, volunteering or working … Of those that exited, 73 per cent did so into independent housing, with the other 27 per cent going on to public and other supported housing option.
The Salvation Army noted in its submission that:
In regional and rural areas there is often not the availability and opportunities of a vibrant job market compared to city areas. Housing costs to live in the city have become unaffordable, and as a result many people have been forced to the regional areas in search for cheaper housing. However, this also means that there are fewer job opportunities in these areas.
Social Ventures Australia commented:
Those who are disadvantaged by poverty, poor education, unstable employment or poor health are less likely to have secure housing, less likely to transition successfully to the private rental market or home ownership and are at greater risk of homelessness.
In addition, Australia has an inadequate supply of stable, appropriate and affordable accommodation, particularly for those on low-incomes. This has a significant detrimental impact on individuals and families but also on government resources and the economy.
For those in need of stable and affordable housing, it is also necessary to provide holistic and integrated support services focusing on other aspects of people’s lives such as education, pre- employment training, mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems, and/or domestic and family violence.
Further evidence received from Engendering Equality stated that:
Family violence is a leading cause of homelessness. In 2015-16, 38 per cent of all people requesting assistance from specialist homelessness agencies were escaping family violence. This included 31 000 children aged under 14 and 66 000 women (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017).
Women are often forced to choose between whether to stay in an abusive relationship or to become homeless. Risks of homelessness to people facing increased hardship will force women to stay in unsafe environments or go into situations that may be a risk to their safety and wellbeing.
Ensuring individuals and communities can thrive and meet their full potential is linked to good health from birth. As discussed earlier, children’s lifelong development and outcomes in education, income, health, and wellbeing are closely aligned with their parents’ situations. The Public Health Association of Australia commented:
The effect of social determinants of health is seen at the beginning of life. The chance of a child dying before the age of 5 years is linked with parents’ income—the lower the income, the higher the mortality in the Americas. Reducing rates of child poverty is a high-priority policy in many OECD countries.
Geographical location is linked to poor health outcomes within Australia. Children living in rural and remote areas of Australia are up to five times as likely as children living in urban areas to have challenges with their developmental health and greater difficulty getting the support they need.
The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) commented that food security and knowledge regarding good food nutrition play an important role on individual’s health and wellbeing:
Food insecurity is an indicator of poverty, and low income is an indicator of vulnerability to household food insecurity. Household food insecurity is also tightly linked to poorer health status. It is a robust predictor of health care utilisation and costs incurred by working-age adults, independent of other social determinants of health.
Good nutrition is crucial and begins before birth with adequate nourishment of mothers. Mothers and children need a continuum of care from before pregnancy, through pregnancy and childbirth, to the early days and years of life. Children need safe, healthy, supporting, nurturing, caring, and responsive living environments.
During a public hearing, Mr Malcom Baalman, PHAA, told the Committee:
We are of the view, with poverty being a driver of people remaining in this trap, that the current levels of social welfare are not adequate to help them escape from that trap, separate from whether they are adequate to help them to have just an ordinary day. We inserted into the discussion a particular example of food insecurity.
The Department of Health is working to ensure that policy and planning decisions appropriately consider the potential implications on health, which can have important linkages with welfare dependency. The Department of Health is increasing access to health services for all Australians through:
the Stronger Rural Health Strategy, which is focused on improving the health of people living in rural, regional and remote Australia
developing a National Rural Generalist Pathway – a medical training pathway that will attract, retain and support doctors in regional, rural and remote areas of need
preventative health initiatives that reduce inequality and incidences of preventable diseases in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence highlighted the variable quality of maternal and child health across Australia, and argued that strengthening the universal platform of maternal and child health could better assist families in the earliest stages of their children’s life.
Many people on welfare are suffering financial hardship. These people can also be at risk of financial exploitation. Improving people’s financial literacy and strengthening economic independence was raised several times throughout the inquiry as an important learning outcome for some people receiving welfare support.
The Committee heard that providing education and tools on financial management and debt can provide benefits that reduce the effect of several factors underpinning entrenched disadvantage.
The Life Course Centre told the Committee it was useful to run the financial literacy programs for disadvantaged mothers through the maternal and child health clinics. Not only could multiple services be provided at once, but there was also less stigma attached to entering maternal and child health clinics.
The Salvation Army has also identified the value of delivering its financial literacy program, Moneycare:
The Salvation Army’s Moneycare program delivers financial counselling, financial capability services, financial literacy/capability education and training and no interest loans. Moneycare has had considerable success in recognising and supporting people in vulnerable circumstances. Most clients that we work with are also dealing with multiple and complex issues. Our practice is to deliver holistic, integrated, wrap- around services that not only seek to address the current crisis, but also work towards building longer term capability and resilience. Our services are focused on people who are in vulnerable circumstances most at risk of financial and social exclusion and disadvantage. Moneycare supports people to overcome debt and provides education and tools to relieve some of the pressures arising from debt and financial hardship.
Some positive feedback from an individual who participated in the program. I was in a very overwhelming situation. Thank you for helping and guiding me through this difficult time. I was in a very bad place until I came to The Salvation Army’s Moneycare, as I was so worried about my financial circumstances. I couldn't eat or sleep as I was worried all the time. Now that everything has been sorted and with your help I am able to manage my payments. Thank you.” – Moneycare client feedback.
Ms Mioche, Catholic Care Australia also raised the high need for financial counselling services and the problem of predatory sales tactics:
Since working out west, one of the things that has surprised me is the shonky-type people who go into these communities and sell them things on hire purchase. You just wouldn't even think it would happen, because there is not much money there. It's a really common problem and then there are other dodgy practices. One of the points which I noted in your terms of reference was around financial stress or manageability. One of the things with people who are ready to go to work is to ensure that they are financially secure and stable—in other words, they don't have overwhelming debt.
UnitingCare highlighted the overwhelming need for financial counselling that exists in Western Australia for people living in entrenched disadvantage:
… we are the co-leader of the Financial Counselling Network with Anglicare WA and we have 15 organisations working in partnership and collaboration delivering financial counselling services to the community. We are working with people who have long-term, entrenched issues. The case example I gave you came from one of our partners.
We are really quite focused not just on helping families address their immediate financial issues but on how to connect them to different types of supports to enable them to better manage their income. We turned away 5½ thousand people last year because we just couldn't provide the services to everybody, but by and large people just don't have enough income.
Through the Financial Wellbeing and Capability Activity, the Government provides support to individuals, families and communities to improve their ability to manage their financial affairs, and meet immediate needs in times of financial crisis. The Government invests around $100 million per year in emergency relief, financial counselling, financial capability and microfinance. These services provide assistance to manage serious debts, build basic budgeting and financial literacy skills, and access to saving and credit options, which support people on low incomes and/or income support recipients.
Although there are many potential target areas for welfare assistance, the Committee wishes to emphasise the importance of housing, healthcare and financial literacy. The Committee considers that assistance in these areas will have a multiplying effect in preventing and addressing entrenched disadvantage.
The Committee acknowledges the significant importance of good quality healthcare for all Australians. The Committee considers that place-based principles for service delivery are important when designing healthcare programs for disadvantaged communities. Successful delivery of health programs and services relies on close collaboration and co-ordination.
Providing financial literacy support program to people on long term welfare support is extremely valuable. The Committee was pleased to hear about the success of many of the programs throughout Australia delivering these services.
The Committee understands that people living on welfare support want to improve themselves and their financial circumstances. The Committee encourages the continuation of these services.
The Committee believes that providing financial literacy education empowers participants to take control of their own future, and this empowerment will have positive flow on effects.
Appropriate housing–especially for families with children–was raised as a critical issue. The Committee recognises the importance of having good housing available for people in need during a crisis. Acceptable housing and food security are precursors to ensuring successful further assistance with education and employment.
The Committee was impressed with the HYPA Housing model that supports young people at risk of homelessness into stable housing and education or employment. The Committee encourages community service providers to look into delivering a similar housing support model to HYPA Housing, for young people at risk.
Throughout the inquiry the Committee was made aware of the challenge of finding secure affordable housing in Australia. The Committee was also concerned about the lack of available emergency housing throughout Australia.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government works with state and territory governments to ensure immediate increases in funding for emergency relief housing and ongoing low cost housing throughout Australia.