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2013 Victorian Budget lacks focus on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged

The 2013 Victorian Budget caters to the comfortable majority, with significant effort applied to infrastructure planning and expenditure.  But it has insufficient focus on the the needs of those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged, according to Denis Fitzgerald, Executive Director of Catholic Social Services Victoria.

 “The 2013 Victorian Budget caters to the comfortable majority, but has few gains for the poor and disadvantaged”, said Denis Fitzgerald, Executive Director, Catholic Social Services.   “While there were some gains for the vulnerable, our society would be richer if we took the opportunity given by the strong economy to improve the life chances for those individuals and communities most in need” Mr. Fitzgerald continued.
“ The Government has set its sights firmly on the long-term infrastructure needs of roads, hospitals, schools and prisons, while maintaining a strong budget surplus.  The needs of some vulnerable groups in society have also been recognised in the short term, notably through funding for an additional 1000 early childhood intervention service places and increasing disability accommodation support for residents in government facilities.
 
“However, in the short term, there is little in the Budget to address such issues as the spike in deaths in custody in Victorian prisons, the precarious housing futures faced by so many families and the regional disparity of economic opportunity across Victoria.  More should be achievable within a budget that spends $58 billion,
 
“While it is understood that the public sector like private business has to continually find more efficient less costly ways of delivering services, it is difficult to see how programs to support clients of drug and alcohol programs can remain effective when subjected to a real cut of 5 per cent per annum.”
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The Budget draws a positive picture of the Victorian economy. 

Economic growth is estimated to rise to 2¼% next year.  A steady rise in employment levels is projected to reduce unemployment to 5% over the next four years; annual wage growth of 3.5% is expected to remain higher than inflation, and the population to continue to grow at around 1.7% a year. Following on from 20 straight years of economic growth at the national level, Victoria can expect to continue to be part of the most peaceful and prosperous society in human history.

Catholic Social Services Victoria was pleased to welcome positive developments in the provision of services to those who are vulnerable.  Out-of-home care received another welcome increase, as part of a multi-year response to the 2012 inquiry into protecting Victoria’s vulnerable children.  And disability services were further strengthened, as part of the welcome commitment to the NDIS.

Infrastructure developments have received wide publicity.  Much of this – hospitals, for example, and many of the transport initiatives – serves the population well.  But opportunities to support  our disadvantaged citizens,  were largely overlooked..  Mr. Fitzgerald highlighted a number of particular concerns:
  • While overall expenditure increased on means-tested concessions for utility payments, the concessions on gas and electricity use were subject for the first time to an upper cap.  But in regional Victoria where gas might not be an option, and for larger families, this change can result in a reduction in the concession, notwithstanding evident need in the household.  .
  • Housing expenditure is failing to keep up with need.  Spending on the housing assistance is budgeted to fall to $387m, an 11% real per capita reduction, despite waiting lists for public housing of more than 39,000 eligible Victorians. 
  • Spending on drug and alcohol programs fell from expected current year levels, by 5% in real per capita terms, to $154 million.  It was ironic that in the same week it was reported that deaths in Victoria from drug use rose to 367 people last year, higher than the road toll.
Mr. Fitzgerald also noted with concern a lack of clarity in government prison expenditure and policy. A 10% increase in expenditure on prison services would be needed to keep pace in real terms with the numbers of prisoners.  The budget papers lack clarity as to what is actually planned.  The budget does provide an estimated prison population range for next year, but the midpoint of this range – 5,293 people - has already been exceeded. Unlike in other areas of the budget, there is no realistic target provided for such measures as prisoner participation in education or in employment. 

“It is hoped that, when pursuing its long-term focus on the state’s infrastructure, the Government also adopts an enlightened approach to long-term prevention in tackling social problems, notably drug and alcohol abuse and homelessness.”

Click here for analysis and comment on the budget from other commentators:
  • Jesuit Social Services commented on youth justice and on prisons
  • The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Services also commented.
  • click here for a budget response from The Salvation Army
  • here for the Anglicare media release
 
And click here for our pre-budget recommendations: media release




 
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