Thursday, 30 April 2020

Federal COVID-19 response measures failing church community services

Clarewen Little speaking to the media. Clarewen Little speaking to the media.

Uniting Church agencies have joined other major not-for-profit providers in a battle to get Federal Government COVID-19 support applied to their work in the community sector.

In recent weeks the Morrison Government has announced multi-billion dollar measures as part of its overall COVID-19 response, including extra funding for aged care operations and the JobKeeper payment.
“Unfortunately the fine print means that church agencies are either ineligible or the funding is insufficient to cover our operating expenses,” said Claerwen Little, National Director of UnitingCare Australia.

Despite recent changes to the JobKeeper package, the Australian Tax Office has confirmed to Uniting in NSW and the ACT that its 850 early learning employees are still not eligible for JobKeeper payments.

“Uniting NSW.ACT has seen a significant impact on our Early Learning services. Attendance at long day care has fallen by up to 50%, out of hours school care by 80%, and pre-schools by 90%,” explains Uniting NSW.ACT Executive Director Tracey Burton.

This drop in occupancy has come at a time when the government has announced that, ‘childcare is free for all’. The childcare package for families was designed to go hand-in-hand with JobKeeper. But, Uniting NSW.ACT is one of the few remaining not-for-profit providers not eligible for JobKeeper for their Early Learning employees.

“We believe this is unjust and unfair,” says Mrs Burton who is encouraging supporters and clients to contact the Federal Ministers involved directly to let them know their concerns.

Uniting has set up a campaign website for the public to address the issue with The Treasurer and The Minster for Education: https://www.uniting.org/saveyourchildcare

In the aged care sector, Ms Little was a signatory to an open letter to all Australians about aged care published in major newspapers today (30 April 2020).

“We welcome the additional funding support provided by government so far – but this equates to an average of $2 per resident per day,” said Ms Little in the letter.

“This is not enough to cover the costs of keeping people safe, including masks and protective equipment, cleaning and sanitation, paying casual staff who have to isolate and also being able to pay the backfilling staff, technology to maintain family connections, social distancing measures and processes to make visits to residents safe.

“The rising costs of keeping residents safe from coronavirus is pushing us closer to breaking point.”

The letter was co-signed by the executive leaders of Anglicare, Baptist Care and peak bodies Aged and Community Services Australia and Leading Age Services Australia.

Aged care providers have asked the Federal Government to commit to an Aged Care Rescue Package. The sector is asking for additional funding including $15 per person per day for Residential Aged Care, $10 per person per day for home care and a $500 million technology fund.

“UnitingCare Australia believes that all people deserve to experience compassion and dignity as they age. They deserve to exercise their rights as full members of our society. And most of all they deserve the very best care,” said Ms Little.

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer says it is of vital importance that the Church’s community service agencies be able to continue their operations.

“The work of Uniting Church community service agencies is the practical expression of our Church’s commitment to embody Christ’s transforming ministry in our country and our world. This work is our response to the Bible’s call to advocate for and be in solidarity with, those who are marginalised and vulnerable.”

“These services are essential in a just society in ordinary times, and even more so during the current challenges.

“A failure to resource these services adequately, is a breach of faith with the Australian community,” said Dr Palmer.