2021-22 Federal Budget: Will it support people experiencing homelessness?
The 2021-22 Federal Budget is an opportunity for Australia to rethink the narrative on social spending. After Victoria’s historic $5.3 billion investment in social housing (Victorian Government, 2020), many are hoping, even expecting that the Federal Government will follow suit. After a year spent at home, the condition and lack of housing was thrust into the spotlight. Many Australians are still experiencing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, with some still in housing and/or financial stress, living in overcrowded dwellings, or without work. As we enter the ‘COVID-normal’ stage, this budget needs to support Australia's most vulnerable by supporting women to enter the workforce, providing safety to those fleeing family violence, permanently raising Jobseeker payments above the poverty line, and to invest in social housing.
Women’s rights and Family Violence
Family violence has been prominent as a pressing social issue in Victoria and nationally in recent years. COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns further exposed the impact of Family Violence. This exposure called for greater understanding of the experiences of those facing family violence and to create appropriate policy responses to support the safety and security of victim survivors. In this context, the significant relationship between family violence and (risk of) homelessness has increasingly been recognised.
Family Violence is the leading cause of homelessness in Australia. The Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention centre reported family violence ‘increases housing vulnerability for women and children experiencing family violence in two ways: by removing ‘the sense of safety and belonging that is associated with the home’ and because leaving a relationship often means women and their children need to leave their homes’.
According to the most recent data collected by the SHSC (AIHW 2018b):
288,273 people across Australia accessed specialist homelessness services in 2016-17.
Of these, nearly 173,000 (60%) were female, 114,757 people (40%) were experiencing domestic and family violence, and 79,000 (28%) identified the main reason for seeking assistance as domestic and family violence.
Of those who identified family violence as the main reason for seeking assistance, 91% of adults were female, 48% were single parents, and 25% were Indigenous.
Although older women do not account for the majority of homeless people, they represent a rapidly growing demographic in the homeless population— increasing by 31% from 2011 (AIHW, 2016). Factors such as domestic violence, relationship breakdown, financial difficulty and limited superannuation can put older women at risk of homelessness. (AIHW 2018c). Blessing Bags recommends the Federal Government commit the Superannuation Guarantee to Paid Parental Leave. Currently, The Paid Parental Leave Scheme does not attract the Superannuation Guarantee. This means that it is not compulsory for any employer to pay superannuation while a new parent (mostly the mother) is on paid parental leave. The consequence, the accumulation of superannuation savings is interrupted while being on parental leave. This disproportionately affects women.
Specialist Homelessness Services
Moving in and out of specialist homelessness services is typical of the cycle of family violence. According to the 2018 National Survey of Workers in the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Sectors, homelessness services had the second most frequent contact with victim/survivors of family violence. Yet, many requests for accommodation support continue to go unmet in Australia. In 2018 the SHSC found that, although the number of unassisted requests for accommodation support fell in 2016-17 compared to 2015-16, there still remained on average 261 unassisted requests across Australia. The Federal Government needs to invest in Women and Childrens long term housing and safety needs.
Blessing Bags calls for the Federal Government to permanently increase Jobseeker Payments above the poverty line and ensure all Australians are treated with dignity. The Federal Government announced a $50 fortnight permanent raise in the jobseeker that was implemented April 1st. The rise in JobSeeker was described by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as the biggest single increase in unemployment benefits since the mid 1980s.
Whilst Blessing Bags welcomes the increase in welfare payments, we see it as long overdue and tokenistic in nature. The raise in JobSeeker will result in an increase of no more than $4 a day for any recipient. The cumulative rate of inflation from 1980 to 2021 is a price increase of 219.19%. $4 in 1980 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $12.77 today, an increase of $8.77 over 41 years. JobSeeker Payments have in no way been responsive to the cost of living. Blessing Bags recommends the Federal Government permanently increase Job Seeker payments again and dedicate itself to every year increasing payments permanently in accordance to inflation.
Social and Public Housing
Homelessness in Australia is set to increase significantly due to high unemployment and cuts to social security payments (Homelessness Australia, 2021). The housing and homelessness sector has long advocated for an increased investment in long term social housing as the only way to address homelessness (Blessing Bags, 2020). We saw Victoria act on this message. After experiencing the worst of the COVID-19 crisis in Australia, Premier Daniel Andrews announced a historical $5.3 billion investment in Social Housing in the delayed State budget. Now is the time for the Federal Government to follow suit.
More social housing means fewer Australians experiencing homelessness. This investment is critical with a national shortage of just over 400,000 affordable homes for people experiencing homelessness or on low incomes. Even before COVID-19, the amount of people experiencing homelessness was increasing. At the start of 2021 , homelessness services were bracing for a ‘tsunami of need’ (Australian Council of Social Services, 2021). Of those accessing homelessness services, 55% cite financial or housing issues as the main reason for seeking assistance (Homelessness Australia, 2021). If the Federal Government invested $7 billion in social housing, 20,000 to 30,000 dwellings could be constructed. Furthermore, currently overworked homelessness services could rapidly rehouse people who lost their home, rather than forcing them to enter the cycle of short term accommodation stays. Moreover, split investment between the Federal and State governments as outlined in the Social Housing Acceleration Renovation Program (SHARP) proposal to build 30,000 social housing dwellings and renovate tens of thousands more.
Furthermore, taking a housing first approach to placing people in social housing will see more benefits. Many Australians with significant mental health issues and other chronic illnesses remain entrenched in homelessness. Cycling in and out of short periods of accommodation and support, or rough sleeping, many of our most vulnerable are not receiving the long term housing they need to rebuild their lives. Both Australian and International evidence suggest that a housing first response - providing access to long term housing with appropriate support to manage health and mental health issues, resulted in housing sustainment rates of over 80% (Homelessness Australia, 2021). An annual investment of $256 million would support 10,000 people with high support needs into rental head leases.
As with most social spending, the return on investment of social housing is astounding and should be considered when bouncing back from the economic crisis of 2020. In addition to having incredible social outcomes, social housing investment would boost Australia’s economic recovery through job creation. This investment could save some 18,000 jobs per year in residential construction. The proposed $7 billion investment in the SHARP proposal would raise Australia’s output by a total of $15.7 billion over the 4 years of the construction, and would increase GDP between $5.8 to $6.7 billion (Homelessness Australia, 2021). Moreover, for every dollar publicly invested in social housing, it boosts GDP by approximately $1.30 (Australian Council of Social Services, 2021).
Social housing is not public housing
Despite this investment in Victoria being a huge step forward, investment in public housing must be considered if we were to end homelessness. Until November 2020, Victoria was the state that spent the least on public housing per head of population, spending just $75 per person, compared to $135 spent by New South Wales (Productivity Commission, 2020). The shift from public housing to social housing removes the responsibility from the State to a more partnership-based model with community housing providers. However, these complex partnerships can be expensive and inefficient (Lawson et al, 2018). Moreover, these partnerships are opportunistic, prioritising commercial rather than social outcomes (Raynor, 2020). Therefore, it is important the Federal Government does not follow the path of the Victorian government, to sell off public housing dwellings to private developers under the guise of affordable housing (Blessing Bags, 2020).
This budget presents an opportunity for the Federal Government to look after Australia’s most vulnerable after a year of health and economic crises. Women fleeing family violence, those relying on income support and those in a chronic cycle of homelessness are still facing the consequences of COVID-19 as many of us begin to adapt to a ‘new normal’. At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, the Federal government was praised for the amount of social spending committed to help Australians out of the pandemic. Now, they can continue this legacy and support those who need it most, reducing homelessness, and the risk factors causing it.
Australian Council of Social Services (2021), Australian Community Sector Survey.
Lawson, J, Pawson, H, Troy, L, van den Nouwelant, R, and Hamilton, C (2018), Social housing as infrastructure: an investment Pathway, AHURI Final Report no. 306. Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. http://dx.doi.org/10.18408/ahuri-5314301
Blessing Bags (2020), Submission to the Inquiry into Homelessness in Victoria.
Centre MG and FVP (2019) Family Violence and Homelessness.
Everybody’s Home (2021), Social housing must be expanded as banks withdraw support.
Productivity Commission (2020), Report on government services. https://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2020/housing-and-homelessness/housing
Raynor, K (2020), Victoria’s $5.4 billion Big Housing Build: It’s big, but the social housing challenge is even bigger. https://theconversation.com/victorias-5-4bn-big-housing-build-it-is-big-but-the-social-housing-challenge-is-even-bigger-150161
Victorian Budget (2020), A place to call home: Victoria’s Big Housing Spend. https://www.budget.vic.gov.au/place-call-home-victorias-big-housing-build
Women In Super (2020), Why is it so important to receive super while on parental leave?https://www.womeninsuper.com.au/content/why-is-it-so-important-to-receive-super-while-on-parental-leave/gjktnp