As always, the state budget provides the Victorian Government an opportunity to increase investment to support the most vulnerable and marginalised members of our community – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes both economic and social sense. This year’s budget brings with it special significance as the first budget of the new Labor Government. As such, The Salvation Army would like to challenge the Labor Government to take a long-term view of the future and make investments in key programs and policies that provide a holistic approach to vulnerable individuals and their needs and address the causes of disadvantage.
This year we have focused on several areas within the service system that are becoming increasingly fragmented and increasing the gaps through which vulnerable Victorians with multiple and complex needs too often fall. We congratulate the Labor Government on a number of election commitments made that make a start in addressing these gaps. Of course there is always more to be done and a number of long standing issues remain which limit any efforts to eliminate poverty and disadvantage in our community. Housing affordability and the lack of housing are themes that came out strongly in all of our consultations with services and have been long-term issues that impact all sectors’ ability to get good outcomes for our clients. Without a safe and affordable place to live, people cannot be expected to address other issues in their lives like unemployment, needing to retrain, or a mental health or health issue. On a state level, bold reform to planning and investment in social housing is needed to ease the housing affordability crisis and open up pathways to independent living for the poor and marginalised. We also need a long-term commitment from the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments to the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) as well as meaningful tax reform to address inequality and the structural causes of high housing prices. The cost of living is another structural issue that disproportionately impacts upon those who seek assistance from The Salvation Army. As housing prices continue to increase, the costs of utilities, transport, food and education do as well. For people on low incomes, particularly those struggling to survive on income support payments, the increases in costs of living are unsustainable. We are already seeing more people at our emergency relief centres than ever before and are becoming increasingly concerned about how low income earners will make ends meet in the future.
The Salvation Army looks forward to working with the Victorian Government to address these issues through partnership and collaboration. A genuine partnership between governments and community service organisations is the only way to ensure that policies reflect the needs of the most marginalised and disadvantaged. Highly disadvantaged people make up a small proportion of our overall community. However, how we care for these individuals remains the standard by which we can measure the success of our society. We all benefit if future policies and reforms are designed to meet the needs of the most marginalised. Indeed, it is our experience that if you can design a system that works for the most disadvantaged, it will also work for everyone else.