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10 May 2023

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Refugee and migrant services left out in the cold in community services funding boost

New funding will offer life support for community services working at the frontline of the cost-of-living crisis – but a key cohort of workers has been excluded from the funding boost, according to non-profit organisation, Settlement Services International (SSI), which provides human services to around 50,000 people a year.

SSI welcomed this evening’s Federal Budget announcement of a $4 billion injection of funding over four years to more accurately fund wages for community service workers, who are the heart and engine room for supporting marginalised people and communities in Australia.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the role of community services had never been more vital amid the worst cost of living crisis in Australia’s history but said there was also a pressing need to alleviate wage pressure for workers providing settlement services to newly arrived refugees and migrants.

“The cost of living has skyrocketed, but so has the cost of delivering community services, which are needed now more than ever. It’s a perfect storm, and we need to navigate that storm by backing community service organisations who are closest to those directly affected and who are the best placed to help,” she said.

Ms Roumeliotis said workers in the settlement sector were, however, exempt from this funding increase, which would mean no easing of pressure for services working with migrants and refugees.

“Better resourcing community service organisations means we can better serve communities in need. This is especially important for settlement services which welcome tens of thousands of newly-arrived refugees and migrants to Australia each year, but which struggle with increasing service delivery and staffing costs,” she said.

“I spoke just recently with the CEO of a migrant resource centre that was closing its doors after 30 years supporting newly arrived communities. They weren’t closing due to a lack of demand. They were closing because the margins on their services were so low they were unable to pay their staff and keep the lights on.

“Settlement service organisations are facing immense funding pressures from a combination of inadequate indexation, higher wages, higher operational costs, and more. Acute funding pressures threaten to undermine the entire settlement system on which the government relies to deliver the migration outcomes it so often talks about, from skilled employment to social cohesion.”

“In the spirit of a fair go, the government should be providing support across the board to community service organisations who are dealing with the same wage and cost pressures, rather than selectively excluding some sectors.”

Ms Roumeliotis said it was welcome to see the Federal Government’s plans to enable refugees and migrants who have been in Australia for longer than five years and have unresolved settlement related needs to be able to access support. Newcomers who require additional support will now be able to continue accessing vital services such as the Settlement Engagement and Transition Support Program, the National Community Hubs Program and Youth Transition Support services.

“This recognises that settlement is not linear and while most new arrivals no longer need support after five years, others have unresolved issues, requiring additional support to ensure they have the opportunity to realise their full potential in Australia,” she said.

“In the same spirit, it was heartening to see the government’s investment in extending the existing Youth Transition Support services for 12 months, offering continued settlement services to young refugees and migrants to improve their education and employment outcomes.

“While this is welcome, how can the government expect settlement service organisations to serve more people for longer while wages are cut in real terms?”

SSI also welcomed a $200 million package of measures to tackle entrenched disadvantage in communities, including a whole-of-government framework to address community disadvantage and $100 million towards a social impact investment Outcomes Fund.

“We know first-hand from working with communities facing complex and overlapping layers of disadvantage that cross-sector collaboration and place-based approaches are key to shifting the dial on stubborn cycles of marginalisation and hardship,” said Ms Roumeliotis.

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