The NSW Government has delivered the 2023-24 State Budget in the midst of an affordable housing shortage and a cost-of-living crisis, both of which are having devastating impacts for many households and communities across NSW. This is occurring against a backdrop of widening inequality, with poverty and disadvantage increasingly concentrated, and worsening, in some suburbs and locations, while others experience more favourable circumstances. It is the first budget of the new Labor Government, framed as one that would “fix the fundamentals about what’s wrong with our essential services”.
While NCOSS acknowledges the financial constraints and budgetary pressures faced, and the inclusion of some welcome initiatives that target disadvantaged households, this Budget does not do enough to help those barely hanging on. Nor does it sufficiently address the compounding, structural layers of disadvantage that affect some groups more than others, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disability and multicultural communities.
We are seeing the impacts of the pandemic, inflation and successive disasters continue to play out, particularly on those living in poverty. As more people move into housing stress and struggle to afford a safe, secure roof over their heads, more are going without essentials, using up what meagre savings they had, and taking other drastic measures in order to get by. These are the households in need of urgent assistance, but for whom the Budget has largely not delivered.
The rhetoric around the Budget emphasised a focus on housing affordability, yet there are few investments or measures that will have a significant impact for those doing it toughest. The Essential Housing Package has some welcome investments aimed at priority housing and homelessness, but they are modest at best. This Budget continues the decades of neglect of social housing.
Another core element of the Budget message was responding to the cost of living. We welcome the $100m increase to energy rebates, as well as others such as toll relief and pre-school fee relief. However, these will not do enough for those barely hanging on - living in fear of a rent increase, struggling to care for their family, unable to afford healthcare or experiencing a constant state of anxiety and distress.
And the Budget is almost entirely silent on the challenges facing the social service sector. It invests billions of dollars in vital physical infrastructure, but few measures are directed at bolstering the social infrastructure keeping struggling households from going under. While the Government’s swiftness in confirming annual indexation of 5.75% for many community organisations has been welcomed, this has not necessarily been uniformly applied and it does not help organisations respond to rising demand for assistance and support. This lack of additional investment in these essential services means that people will not receive the timely support or early intervention they need, increasing the likelihood that their circumstances will escalate to crisis, at significant cost to the community and the Government.
We know that poverty is solvable; we just need Governments to act. Our hope is that this Budget is just the starting point for significant and urgent action to come, and that the response from the sector demonstrates how much more is required. NCOSS will continue to push hard for priority action to address the key challenges, both in the months ahead and in the next Budget.
Read our analysis on specific policy areas below: