Survey finds underfunded, overworked, and underpaid service workers


The latest Australian Community Sector Survey finds that the pandemic has further compounded chronic under-funding in the community sector, pushing many services and workers to their limits. This has severely impacted the services they can offer and their ability to retain staff. The report ‘Carrying the Costs of the Crisis’, undertaken by the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Sydney for ACOSS and the State and Territory Councils of Social Service, supported by Bendigo Bank, explores the experiences of 1828 community sector workers, including 513 service leaders (CEOs and senior managers), and 640 frontline workers. In addition to the acute under-investment, a third of service leaders expect their finances to worsen in 2022 and many sector leaders and workers are offsetting funding shortfalls by performing large amounts of unpaid work.  In terms of current funding:

  • Only 20% said it covers the full cost of service delivery.
  • Only 17% said it recognises increasing wage costs.
  • Only 14% said it properly recognises their overheads.
  • Only 14% reported indexation arrangements for their main funding source are adequate.

ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said “Coupled with boosted income support payments, the extraordinary care and help provided by community services bolstered the resilience of our community to the social and economic shocks of the pandemic.

“Yet, community sector workers and service leaders, about 80% female, are being forced to carry an enormous physical and psychological burden to cover funding shortfalls and ensure people in need can still access essential services.“Underfunding issues are being made much worse by the fact that too many community sector organisations are being forced to rely on insecure short-term Government contracts. Some of these contracts may last for only a year which makes it extremely difficult to plan ahead or offer any certainty to staff or clients.  “Community sector workers provide complex services to people in need. The work is incredibly rewarding but also stressful and relentless, especially during the pandemic. Without more stable funding, organisations cannot offer the job security and career advancement that these workers deserve. Little wonder then that nearly one in three of the people who participated in our survey plan to leave their role in the next year and almost one in ten are considering leaving their industry altogether.

“There is a reasonable fear among sector leaders that the situation will only get worse, without a change to policy settings.

“The shadow of COVID is likely to be long, and community services must be given the resources they need to care for our community as we face further COVID variants.

“Community organisations should be able to rely on governments to fund them appropriately so they can provide quality services to all who need them and pay their workers fairly.

“In this election, we are seeking a commitment from all parties and candidates to address chronic underfunding as a priority to strengthen the resilience of communities. As a matter of urgency, we are calling for a Community Sector Continuity of Service Enabling Fund to be established to ensure continuity of service delivery, adaptation, secure jobs, prevent loss of jobs or income, and to guarantee paid special leave for all workers, as well as improving indexation for community sector funding.”

To secure essential community services, ACOSS is calling for the next Government to:

  • Create a Community Sector Continuity of Service Enabling Fund to ensure continuity of service delivery, adaptation, secure jobs, prevent loss of jobs or income, and guarantee paid special leave for all workers.
  • Improve indexation for community sector funding.
  • Conduct an assessment of community need for essential services.
  • Protect people at greatest risk from ongoing health impacts of COVID-19.

The next Government must also raise the revenue needed to meet the big challenges and properly fund essential services:

  • Guarantee essential services and safety nets for all that need them.
  • Rescind the unfair and unaffordable ‘’Stage 3’’ tax cuts for people on higher incomes.
  • Review the tax system to strengthen revenue and improve fairness with a focus on tax concessions that are economically and socially harmful and elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Shield people with the least resources from any spending reductions.