The significance of universal accessibility

With the new financial year I have been taking an opportunity to engage in one on one conversations with FRSA’s members, starting with a number of our members in Western Australia. Given the particular circumstances of services in the West, in which all state-funded families and children services are targeted, I am starkly reminded of the critical role of Commonwealth funded services in providing universal support, with a focus on prevention and early intervention across the lifecourse.

We must not lose sight of the significance of universal accessibility when we know that services are increasingly drawn into working with more complex individuals, families and communities – and towards the pointy end of service delivery. Systems and services right across Commonwealth, State/Territory and local government jurisdictions are increasingly stretched and under-resourced. I should be clear this is a trend that is not exclusive to the West but consistent across Australia. We hear this through discussions with our members and it has been a constant message in the Communities of Practice sessions that we have been running for the DSS funded programs under the Families and Children Activity.

Clearly linked to this increase in client complexity is the cost of living pressures on individuals and families, with housing affordability and accessibility featuring strongly in that feedback.

We know that having enough money to live on and a safe, secure and adequate place to call home are intrinsic to individual wellbeing and the capacity to engage fully in society – be that school, parenting and home care, work and community. Whilst acknowledging the ALP was successful this week in getting the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Safety Net) Act 2023 through Parliament – the increase of approximately $52.00 per fortnight in real terms (inclusive of indexation) to a large proportion of those payments – this still falls far short of what is required for people reliant on these payments.

Today, a coalition of more than 80 organisations across Australia – organisations specialising in services including housing, health, domestic violence and law – submitted a joint statement to the Senate Inquiry into the Worsening Rental Crisis in Australia urging government to act on rental reform. Without some kind of urgent action, coupled with longer-term and enduring solutions, the numbers of families in crisis will continue to grow and the pressure on services will continue to increase.

On a different and more celebratory note, today is National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day, with the theme ‘Little voices, Loud futures’. We join in celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and share our hope for those little voices to occupy a strong and central position in the future.

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