Since the budget announcement on Tuesday night, I have been reflecting on what all this means for the community and human services industry, and more importantly for the people of Western Sydney that we support. On budget night, I saw a shift in the national narrative with the Government’s approach to people experiencing vulnerabilities. I saw a shift in how income support and rental assistance was viewed, that it is a security safety net for times when people are in need and at times of crisis. I saw a shift in priorities so that we can try to provide opportunities where all communities members can equitably thrive, which is of particular importance in a region like Western Sydney. The announcement, though modest in its changes, I hope is turning point indicating a return in focus – to people – and we need more.
While the Budget did provide some much-needed support, it does not go far enough in addressing fundamental inequities that impact on access to housing, employment, services and the cost of living pressures facing Western Sydney.
As reported in the recent NSW Council of Social Services’ Mapping Economic Disadvantage in NSW report, the geographical poverty divide not only remains – it is getting worse. This unequivocally points to questions of systemic inequity due to lagging investment where it is most needed.
Economic disadvantage in Western Sydney is disproportionality experienced by the most vulnerable. In the last five years, people over 65 years have become the largest growing age group experiencing poverty in NSW. With the highest concentration of older people living in poverty residing in Western Sydney, it is a welcome announcement to increase the rates to social security recipients over 55 years of age.
More broadly, $14.6 billion cost of living measures were announced including the overdue increase in the Jobseeker, Youth Allowance and Austudy base rate. However, the $40 a fortnight increase to Jobseeker and related payments will see people remaining below the poverty line. Along with ACOSS and other peaks, Western Sydney Community Forum calls on the Government to substantially lift base rates of payments as a priority. This is particularly important for Western Sydney where we have some areas where more than 30 per cent of young people do not have access to stable and secure employment.
The planned pay rise for aged care workers is a welcome measure. This is an important step in addressing the issues raised by the Aged Care Royal Commission; which warned of increasing worker shortages fuelled by lack of recognition, remuneration and skill building for the sector’s workers. The announced changes will hopefully go some way towards stemming the tide of those leaving the aged care workforce due to low pay and burnout and supports our sector to retain a workforce while focusing funds on direct service delivery.
I know our sector welcomes the delay to the Support at Home Program to July 2025 so that we can get the funding mechanisms right. This is a sound measure as we need to ensure providers and organisations supporting people to age in place survive and thrive. This is a critical factor for Western Sydney’s aged care sector and ultimately older residents where our region has ageing populations and large numbers of older people in need of support.
However, it is not solely older people who are experiencing economic disadvantage and who are in need of supports and services in Western Sydney. Young people are experiencing significant vulnerability particularly in relation to housing, with recent data indicating that younger Jobseeker recipients (aged between 22 and 54 years) are two-and-a-half times more likely to be financially stressed than older recipients (aged 55+ years). The housing market across the whole of Sydney is becoming increasingly out of reach for young people.
First Nations communities, people with disability and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are also reported to have between two to three times higher rates of poverty than for the rest of the population. Again, these are significant populations concentrated heavily within Western Sydney and it again, points to inequitable access to the fundamentals like stable and secure employment, housing and income.
The budget’s latest efforts to address entrenched disadvantage are welcome, as they focus on increased funding to local communities to develop and implement initiatives that respond to their own specific circumstances. As we learned from the crucial role played by place-based organisations in supporting communities during the Covid19 pandemic, local communities are the best placed to understand the challenges that confront them. It is only through working with and through local trusted place based community organisations that those challenges can be overcome.
The increases to Commonwealth Rent Assistance will provide a modest boost to eligible recipients, however the causes of Western Sydney’s worsening economic disadvantage continue to be complex, including rising cost-of-living and housing instability, as the key drivers of the widening poverty gap.
The need for increased social housing supply is evident, and the response to increase the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation liability cap to $7.5 billion to secure more affordable and social housing properties is necessary. This budget though, has failed to improve the outcomes of those living in rentals experiencing profound stress, in the form of adequate budget measures.
Those living in rental accommodation continue to experience rising rates of poverty, an issue particularly apparent for Western Sydney communities, for both private renters and those living in social housing. It is particularly concerning that the number of older women in private rentals living below the poverty line has now grown to more than 50 per cent. We can expect this to exacerbate the situation for older women, already the largest growing population of those experiencing homelessness in Australia.
While this budget has attempted to strike a balance in managing inflationary pressures, there have been missed opportunities to provide targeted cost-of-living support to communities who need it most. But it has given me and others in our sector who support communities in need some hope. The narrative has shifted. Inequity in access and outcomes as a fundamental national priority, was recognised. This is very promising, but we are yet to see the fundamental changes needed to address the geographical poverty divide and to investment in a universal baseline level of service; all of which impacts significantly on the people and the sector of greater Western Sydney.
CEO, Western Sydney Community Forum