The Society welcomed the opportunity to provide feedback on the Commonwealth Department of Social Services consultation on the Financial Wellbeing and Capability Activity in April 2017.

The Society provides an array of support services for people experiencing financial crisis and hardship, including emergency relief (ER), financial counselling, and financial capability services – referred to collectively as ‘Financial Wellbeing and Capability’ (FWC) services. In addition to Commonwealth funding, these services receive funding from state and territory governments, philanthropic sources and charitable donations.

The Society's commitment to social justice and overcoming the causes of poverty and inequality has informed this submission, which reviews the Department of Social Services (DSS) Financial Wellbeing and Capability Activity Discussion Paper. As one of Australia’s largest providers of FWC services, the Society’s staff, members and volunteers regularly come into contact with Australians experiencing financial hardship and social exclusion. This submission is informed by the insights and expertise of our staff and members, and draws on feedback from those directly involved in providing ER and financial support services across Australia. It also reflects our organisation’s commitment to delivering ER and financial support services in a way that maintains dignity, upholds privacy and encourages self-determination.

The current review of FWC services comes at a time of heightened financial hardship in many areas, and increased demand for services and support. The Society does not support narrowing the eligibility requirements for FWC services. We strongly recommend that universal access to ER services be retained to avoid excluding vulnerable people and potentially leaving the most disadvantaged people in our community in a dire state of financial crisis. In addition, we do not support the proposal to mandate service integration or referrals, particularly if this involves FWC providers being “contractually required” to establish formal relationships with jobactive providers.

A further overarching concern is the failure to acknowledge the structural disadvantages that contribute to the financial hardship of those seeking support from FWC services.

Poverty rarely exists in a vacuum, and many FWC clients contend with a myriad of issues and barriers that impact on their wellbeing and compound the disadvantages they experience. Resolving these issues cannot be left to FWC services alone and should not be the basis upon which the value and performance of such services are measured. Urgent and multidimensional reform is needed to address the underlying causes of poverty and reduce the demand placed on FWC services. From the Society’s point of view, this is a significant omission in the Discussion Paper.

The Society sincerely hopes the DSS will take this opportunity to strengthen FWC services and ensure they remain inclusive and accessible to all people “at risk”. The Society welcomes further consultation and looks forward to working together on building a strengthened and responsive FWC services sector.