Community sector fears for youth under proposed federal budget

Four of Victoria’s most prominent community peak bodies – the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic), the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare (CFECFW) and the Council to Homeless Persons (CHP) – recently held a forum to discuss the impacts of changes proposed in the 2014-15 federal budget.

All 120 attendees came with various priorities, but the overwhelming concern was for the proposed changes to Centrelink allowances which will result in young people aged 18 – 30 being without any income support for 12 months out of every 18. The forum was united in its call for the federal government to abandon its proposed changes to youth income support, and called for the reinstatement of programs like Youth Connections. Key points raised at the forum included:

1. The impact of the federal budget on young people

With the youth unemployment rate nearly double that of the general population in Victoria (12.4% cf. 6.4%), YACVic says the implications of the changes to income support are severe and believe the restrictions are based on the assumption that families can and will continue to financially support adult offspring until they’re 29. Often this is not the case and there are concerns this will lead to an increase in family conflict

2. The budget should invest in an employment program that provides intensive case-managed support for vulnerable young people

VCOSS stressed that this type of support is essential for vulnerable young people who face multiple barriers to employment. Vulnerable young people cannot be ready to work until they have support with their education and training, employability skills, health and wellbeing, housing and family issues. It is also important to work with businesses to ensure that employers understand what support is required to keep these young people in employment. 

3. The impact that changes to income support will have on homelessness

During 2012 – 2013, around 10,000 people aged between 25 and 30 sought assistance from homelessness services. CHP anticipates this will increase significantly if the proposed changes to income support are implemented. CHP anticipate that the proposed changes to income support will result in two main groups of young people becoming homeless:

  • Those left without any Centrelink income, who will not be able to pay for rent, utilities or other essential costs; and
  • Those who are currently homeless, who may be misclassified by Centrelink to receive no income, and will again require long periods of costly support to be correctly reclassified

4. The impact on vulnerable families with young people, especially those at risk of entering out-of-home care, and those leaving care

Every year in Victoria approximately 400 young people turn 18 and must leave care – most, about 75-percent do not have the support of their families. CFECFW are particularly concerned about the impact of the restriction of income support for that group, and the exemptions or processes which will be required to obtain an income for them.

5. The importance of Youth Connections

Rebekah Sharkie, National Executive Officer of the Youth Connections Program, outlined the program’s successes in providing career counselling and support to early school leavers. Since 2010, Youth Connections has helped 74,000 vulnerable young Australians to re-engage with study and work; in Victoria alone, the program assists over six thousand young people a year. From the floor, numerous service providers from around the state spoke of their reliance on this program to re-engage the most challenging and disengaged young people in their communities who need expert support. Attendees from rural Victoria observed that the loss of a single program such as Youth Connections impacts disproportionately in their communities, where rates of disadvantage are higher, options for education and training are limited, and there are few, if any, other services to take up the work.

6. Cancellation of funding for Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENs)

Currently the LLENs bring together businesses, trainers, schools and communities to design collaborative local solutions to youth employment issues. They work with around 5,000 organisations and businesses across Victoria, and are widely recognised as the main partnership brokers in this space. If their role were to be lost, options for vulnerable young people seeking employment would be further reduced.

7. The negative impact of the ‘learn or earn’ narrative in public discourse

Dr Joseph Borlagdan of the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) highlighted the pejorative impact of this narrative on young people. He contrasted this with BSL’s ‘inclusive growth’ alternative, and noted how important it is to recognise the long-term gains in productivity that can be achieved by properly supporting young people to reach their potential.

For more in-depth responses to the 2014-15 federal budget, please see the following: