20/05/2010 - 00:00

Extra $12m for community services

20/05/2010 - 00:00

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THE Western Australian Council of Social Service has welcomed the state’s $12 million injection to social services but warned more needs to be done to address the growing wage gap between government workers and those in non-government organisations.

THE Western Australian Council of Social Service has welcomed the state’s $12 million injection to social services but warned more needs to be done to address the growing wage gap between government workers and those in non-government organisations.

Premier Colin Barnett last week told a WACOSS conference in Perth his government recognised that government agencies were not always the best placed to help the most vulnerable in society, and would implement a range of initiatives to complement the more than $800 million a year spent through the community sector on non-government organisations.

The new measures, to be detailed in Thursday’s state budget, include $10 million to establish a community investment fund to provide low-interest loans to eligible groups to upgrade their offices, cars and equipment, and $2 million for a social innovation and grants program.

“Finally, and perhaps most important, a new relationship will be established between the over 300 community based organisations and the state government,” Mr Barnett said.

This will be through a community forum with leading people from the community sector and government heads of department, which will design policy, reduce the administrative costs and burden on the sector, and look at a range of issues, he said.

“For example, the fact that wages in the non-government sector tend to be significantly lower than the government sector,” Mr Barnett said.

WACOSS chief executive Sue Ash told WA Business News she was keen for the new partnership forum to provide an open platform for public debate on effective strategies to reduce the wage gap.

WACOSS is the leading peak organisation for community services, and represents 300 member organisations and individuals providing services to individuals, families and children.

Ms Ash estimated that social workers in government agencies could earn as much as 40 per cent more than their non-government counterparts in the same role with similar qualifications.

But she warned of the dangers of the new partnership forum adding further red tape to the sector.

“We are very aware that new measures often end up with a lot of red tape, and our commitment is to make sure that they’re well-managed but they don’t add a lot of red tape to our sector,” she said.

Labor leader Eric Ripper said shifting the delivery of social services from the public sector to NFPs with no funding to address the wage gap meant the state government would be getting services “on the cheap”.

Mr Ripper said while he welcomed extra funding for low-interest loans, the social and community services sectors were in urgent need of a significant injection of funds to bridge the wage gap.

He said community services workers were paid about 30 per cent less than public sector workers and were operating under a $198 million shortfall in funding.

“The number of Western Australians needing assistance from the not-for-profit sector has increased by 20 to 30 per cent and with skyrocketing household bills, it will only get worse,” Mr Ripper said in a statement.

“The government should provide extra funding for more services, not just shift the cost and responsibility.

“There is no extra help for our state’s most vulnerable and, in a wealthy state, we should be able to do better.”

Labor community services spokesperson Sue Ellery said the state government should implement a framework to guarantee ongoing quality of services and to make sure no families fell through the gap.

 

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