Community services including homelessness, mental health and family violence organisations are facing soaring demand this Christmas due to the cost-of-living crisis, continuous disasters and the ongoing impacts of Covid-19, a new report has found.

The report Helping people in need during a cost-of-living crisis, based on the Australian Community Sector Survey undertaken by the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney for ACOSS and the State and Territory Councils of Social Service, and supported by Bendigo Bank, found that only three per cent of the 1,470 organisations surveyed said their main service can always meet demand.

In 2020, when the Coronavirus Supplement was in place, that figure was 19 per cent, before dropping to six per cent in 2021 after the Supplement was withdrawn by the Federal Government.

Housing and homelessness services are particularly stretched. Not a single one of the 180 services in the survey said they could ‘always’ meet demand and as many as one in 10 said they could never meet demand.

Some 66 per cent of organisations reported increased demand in 2022, including 85 per cent of those delivering financial, legal and emergency support; and 80 per cent of those delivering domestic and family violence services.

One CEO of a child and youth service in Victoria said: “In almost thirty years in community service provision, I have never experienced a more challenging environment.”

Meanwhile, 61 per cent of service providers reported increased poverty and disadvantage among their clients and 64 per cent reported that clients’ needs were increasingly complex.

The increased demand and complexity of need has put extra pressure on community service staff, with 54 per cent of organisations reporting their main service is affected by staff burnout.

This was especially high among domestic and family violence services where 81 per cent reported staff exhaustion.

Many organisations are struggling to recruit and retain staff, with 40 per cent reporting their main service is unable to find enough staff and 36 per cent struggling to find volunteers.

Only one in eight said they receive enough funding to meet community demand.

One frontline worker at a family services organisation in Queensland said: “We are underfunded and understaffed to meet the increasing needs.”

ACOSS Deputy CEO Edwina MacDonald said the report laid bare the shocking impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

“It is clear that community services are experiencing something unprecedented. Intensifying financial pressures on top of disasters are really affecting people and overly straining providers this Christmas,” she said.

“As people increasingly search for help, services face higher operational costs and staff shortages, further limiting their ability to assist their communities.

“Government relies on our sector to serve the public interest on its behalf. It is therefore vital that it properly fund services and invest in service sector staff who have been doing an incredible job in tough circumstances.

“People across the country know just how hard-working, resilient and committed our sector has been during three, long years of pandemic, disasters and economic turmoil.

“But the challenges of demand, complexity of need, poverty and disadvantage, combined with the past decade of chronic underfunding, are pushing community services beyond breaking point, and that cannot be tolerated,.

“If our sector is to support everyone seeking help, then strengthening our workforce and suitably funding essential services is crucial.”

View the report

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