Mission Australia has today welcomed the Government’s budget announcement that it will invest $331 million in a new Youth Employment Strategy to assist young people to make a successful transition from school to work, but cautioned that children from low income families could lose out from the new families package and the government has done little to address the dire state of housing affordability.
“We’re glad that the Government has finally acknowledged that we have to invest in young people to ensure the future prosperity of Australia. Young people are the workers of tomorrow, they are the innovators of tomorrow and they are the tax payers of tomorrow. Their success is our success,” Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said.
“With a youth unemployment rate of 13.6%, more than double the national rate, we should be ensuring young people have the skills and experience to take on the jobs of tomorrow when our economy picks up.”
“We’re particularly heartened by the additional intensive support for vulnerable job seekers to improve their participation. Unfortunately however, the investment comes just 12 months after the government wound down the successful Youth Connections program, leaving young people adrift for 12 months with no support, waiting for government to fill the gap.”
“We could have made a seamless transition from Youth Connections to a new program rather than losing staff through redundancies, and losing skills and expertise from the sector. But at least the government has recognised its mistake.”
“This is another example of how the community sector frequently gets messed around with short term changes to programs, limited extensions to funding and program withdrawals with little notice. These short term changes come at a cost to the sector, which in turn means that we can deliver fewer services to our clients, and runs counter to the government’s rhetoric about reducing complexity and red tape.”
Ms Yeomans said that punitive reductions in income support for young people announced in the last budget have also been wound back or delayed.
“We are pleased that the government has withdrawn the requirement that people under 30 go without income support for six months of the year. However, we are concerned that some young people under 25 will still need to wait four weeks.”
“There is no good rationale for preventing young people from accessing income support when they need it, particularly when there are five job seekers for every position. Not every young person has access to a stable secure home where they can live with their parents and you can’t pay the rent with thin air.”
“We are also concerned that measures from the last budget to increase the age for Newstart eligibility from 22 to 25 years of age remains, but has been delayed by a year. This means that these young people will have to subsist on almost $100 a fortnight less than if they were receiving Newstart.”
The investment in the first steps towards broader welfare reform were also welcomed, with an allocation of $20 million over four years to fund an actuarial analysis of groups at risk becoming welfare dependent in the long term.
“We need to take a methodical, well thought-out approach to welfare reform that ensures people have adequate support to meet their basic needs, but also provides the right workforce participation incentives,” Ms Yeomans said.
“Conducting the actuarial analysis is the right first step, and it must be followed by targeted investment in improving outcomes for people at risk of welfare dependency.”
However, Ms Yeomans said that in other elements of the budget, such as the families package, the government has missed an opportunity to invest in children in order to reduce their risk of long term welfare dependency.
“While we welcome the extension of the National Partnership on Universal Access, the single means-tested rebate and the new Safety Net, the Activities Test could exclude children who will benefit enormously from participating in early education and care,” Ms Yeomans said.
The government has halved the number of hours of early learning that children can access before their parents will have to pass an activity test, from 24 hours to 12.
“Some children are being penalised for their parent’s unemployment. We need to focus on what’s good for children, not just on participation of their parents.”
“While the increase in the childcare subsidy up to 85% for low income earners is a very welcome development, it’s meaningless if children can’t get the early learning they need because one or other of their parents can’t get enough hours of work.”
“Children need two days of early learning to get the educational benefit and connect properly with their carers. We would urge the government to make this adjustment to the package”
The confirmation of two further years of funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness has provided a lifeline to 180 homeless services around the country, but without indexation or a long-term Commonwealth/State agreement, the future of housing and homelessness policy is still unclear.
“We need a national housing and homelessness policy that addresses the acute shortage of social and affordable housing. This is the missing piece in the budget puzzle.”
“Housing is the biggest cost of living issues affecting low income earners in Australia and we need national leadership to deliver greater supply of social and affordable housing, an increase in rent assistance, a tax system provides incentive for private investment in affordable housing rather than pushing up prices and long-term commitment to homeless service funding.”
“Whilst additional investment in awareness campaign to reduce domestic and family violence is a good start, we’ve got a long way to go to reducing domestic and family violence, which we know is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children.”
Mission Australia added that while the changes the Fringe Benefits Tax which will cap the amount that can be salary sacrificed at $5000 for meal and entertainment expenses will affect staff in the not-for-profit sector, that this was a reasonable savings measure.