The 2020-21 NSW Budget comes at a time when NSW is facing the worst prevailing economic conditions in a generation. During the COVID-19 crisis, the NSW Government responded swiftly and effectively to support and protect the most vulnerable members of the community.
However, the impacts of the pandemic continue to unfold, with a wave of disadvantage spreading across NSW. Unemployment and poverty are projected to increase significantly in the coming months as the full impact of the recession flows through the economy, and the buffers of JobKeeper and the JobSeeker supplements taper off.
This Budget addresses some of the most significant challenges faced by communities. Many of the measures announced will provide temporary relief, in circumstances where more permanent and sustained commitments are required.
The $812 million committed to build and maintain social housing is a step forward, albeit long overdue. However, this investment reflects a fraction of what is required to make an impact on the profoundly inadequate supply of social housing. It also fails to capitalise on the jobs that could be created in residential construction, the flow-on benefits for small business and the boost to local economies that would have resulted from a more substantial investment. With rates of homelessness and housing stress set to climb even higher by June 2021, more individuals and families will be faced with precarious, inadequate and unsafe living arrangements.
The $50 million commitment to building the capacity of the sector through the Social Sector Transformation Fund is a good start. The Fund acknowledges the significant pressures being placed on the social services sector and recognises that small-to-medium-sized NGOs have not had the resources they need to sustain and improve their operations. However, with demand and pressures on the community services sector growing, ongoing support and guaranteed funding is required to address rising disadvantage and reduce the risk of deepening long-standing inequities across NSW.
The initiatives to alleviate some of the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and create opportunities and employment for those who have been hardest hit are welcome. This includes funding to support women to get back into work, train apprentices, and create cadetships for people living in social housing. These initiatives, however, do not go far enough to address the challenges faced by these groups. Significantly greater investment is required to combat rising unemployment and disadvantage.
The Budget confirms ongoing funding for various programs where the future had been uncertain – including specialist homelessness services, disability information and advocacy and intensive family support. During the pandemic the organisations delivering these services have provided invaluable support to vulnerable members of the community. It is pleasing that their workers now know that they will keep their jobs and that clients can rest assured they will continue to receive support. But this is maintenance or ‘business as usual’ funding – it does not address the fact that many organisations are already at capacity and will struggle to respond to the surge in demand that rising unemployment will bring.
The unemployment and disadvantage stemming from this pandemic will be with us for years to come. The community needs an enduring commitment from the government to provide supports beyond the immediate crisis. Addressing disadvantage early before it becomes entrenched will be less costly and will minimise the long-term negative impacts of the economic crisis on productivity.
This is an interim NSW Budget. We look to the 2021-22 NSW Budget to provide a clear vision for an equitable recovery. This will need to include investing substantially in more social and affordable housing stock, expanding domestic violence services, addressing cost-of-living pressures for low-income families and providing additional support to young people.
These are exceptional times and will demand further action and investment from the government in the years to come. We are a rich state in a rich country. We can weather this economic storm together, without leaving behind the most vulnerable members of our society.
Read our analysis on specific policy areas below:
NCOSS Welcomes NSW Government Investment in Social Services Sector (16 November 2020)
NCOSS Welcomes NSW Government Investment in Tutors to Help Students in Need (10 November 2020)