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COVID-19 leads to enormous impacts for Community Service Organisations

April 8, 2020

Unprecedented is a word I generally detest. I find it has been so overused and hackneyed that it has often lost its meaning. However, life in the time of COVID-19 is truly unique, and the word ‘unprecedented’ has never been more relevant. The Board and Staff of Community Industry Group send our thoughts and good wishes out to all of you. We know that, as is often the case, many of the measures and restrictions now in place are impacting our most vulnerable community members the hardest. We know that our members and colleagues in community service organisations are working hard to continue to support your clients and communities.

Despite the current restrictions, Community Industry Group continues to support your work. Although many of the team are working from home, the office is still open with limited team members on site, and strict safety protocols in place. Like many of you, our workload has increased significantly as we work daily to keep the government aware of the impacts on our sector and in our community. As your Peak Body, we have been keeping up our work as Voice, Influence and Leader.

Some of the key issues/asks so far that we have fed to relevant state and federal bodies include:

  • Demand for community services has grown and will continue to grow as people who were already in unstable employment – particularly casual staff and people working in sectors such as hospitality and tourism lose income.
  • The atmosphere of anxiety and fear will have negative impacts on vulnerable people, including ‘at risk’ families, people in violent relationships, people living with mental health conditions etc.
  • There will be an increase in overall poverty, leading to increases in homelessness, food insecurity, social isolation and mental health issues. We have already heard about increases in suicide as a result of the bushfires, and have grave concerns that suicide rates will increase as the impacts of COVID-19 spreads.
  • Community service organisations – particularly those in aged and disability – are concerned about the impact on staff and therefore service provision to the most vulnerable people in society. If staff become ill or have to self-isolate, how will they maintain service continuity? Many of their clients will be in dire straits without these services.
  • Social distancing is difficult to maintain in many essential services, particularly in personal care. Organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to access PPE. And even when they can find it, prices are increasing significantly. When margins are low, such increases will impact organisational sustainability.
  • The Community Support Program helps people in need to move to Australia, but they must be coming for a job. Many of these jobs are with family-owned small businesses which have now closed, leaving these immigrants without an income, and ineligible for Centrelink benefits.
  • Supermarkets are no longer offering specials, and this is making food and household products increasingly unaffordable for people on low incomes.
  • Many charities and NFPs rely on fundraising to keep services afloat. Most fundraising events and activities involve groups of people and will therefore be cancelled for the foreseeable future.

We are therefore recommending:

  • Immediate recruitment drive and free training to Certificate III level for Individual Support in both Aged and Disability.
  • Strategy for community organisations to develop and deploy a contingent workforce, share staff etc.
  • Flexibility in funding agreements for services such as homelessness, family and children, early intervention, community centres etc. Many will have to cease group-type activities so need approval to re-direct funds to alternative activities or to fund alternative forms of delivery. For example, they may need to purchase teleconferencing/video conferencing equipment and licences.
  • Retention of unspent funds. Most funding bodies require that any funds unspent by 30 June are returned to Treasury. But demand will ramp up when community returns to ‘normal’ and services can use their unspent funds to support community to adjust to life.
  • Establishment of a Resilient Communities – Support and Connect fund that supplements existing programs and will enable small to medium-sized organisations embedded in their local communities to: expand existing offerings and meet spikes in demand; undertake targeted outreach to connect with people who are most vulnerable and at risk of slipping through the cracks; and/or develop new, tailored offerings – in partnership with the community – that build connections, facilitate recovery and promote psychosocial resilience.
  • Changes to NDIS rules to allow charging plans for last minute cancellations.
  • 10% increase in NDIS plans to ensure that the 10% Coronavirus increase in service costs does not eat into packages and result in a reduction of services or activities.
  • A rent subsidy for people and organisations that can no longer afford to pay rent. A moratorium on evictions is welcome, but we cannot have people or organisations accumulating crippling back-rental debt.
  • Strategies to deal with the impacts of social isolation.
  • Community service workers, particularly those in aged and disability, perform similar roles as people in the health sector. Many of the measures which have been extended to health workers (free parking, hotel accommodation etc) should be extended to community workers who are providing similar essential services.

Please keep us informed of any issues impacting you and your clients, and any recommendations we can be making to Government on your behalf. Please also reach out if we can offer any help and support in any way.

Stay safe and we’ll look forward to seeing you all again in the future.

Nicky and the team at Community Industry Group.

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