2024 Federal Budget: Promising start mixed with missed opportunities to create real change

This year’s Federal Budget saw the Government take positive steps on important issues like the care economy and employment.

Yet, it did little to address the bigger picture items that would deliver the scale of change needed in our communities.

To make real inroads on inequality and disadvantage in Australia, many areas are in desperate need of structural reform. These include early childhood education, employment and housing.

Below, we’ve shared our perspectives on where the budget has delivered, and where it missed opportunities to make real change.

Cost of living

The government included cost-of-living relief measures for many Australians in this budget. The additional measures for people doing it toughest were inadequate:

  • A small change to Jobseeker benefits a limited number of people who have partial capacity to work. No broader change to Jobseeker and Youth Allowance. This means more than a million Australians will continue to struggle to afford basic necessities on $55 a day
  • A small further increase in rent assistance equates to around $9.40 per week for a single person on the maximum rate. This follows on from our successful advocacy last year which led to the first increase in 30 years. The Government needs to go a lot further to ensure people are not left in housing stress.

The failure to take meaningful action to change the circumstances of those in greatest need further entrenches disadvantage. It also places extra pressure on charity, crisis and social services who are already struggling to meet rising demand.

‘Long overdue pay rises to aged care and childcare workers are welcome and important. Yet there’s much more to be done to put the charities sector on a strong financial footing. Research tells us that charities are the glue that hold our communities together. They also employ more than 1 in 10 Australian workers. A thriving social sector is vital to holding together our economic and social fabric.’  – Suzie Riddell, CEO SVA

Employment

In Australia, where we are born, and the wealth of our family, has a big impact on our chances of a good job and a bright future.

That’s why it is encouraging to see extra measures to give young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds better access to university pathways, including:

  • Funding for nursing, midwifery, teaching and social work students undertaking work placements
  • Development of a needs-based funding system for higher education from July 2026.

Also pleasing are new measures to support in-work training such as:

  • Increasing incentive payments for apprenticeship completions
  • Funding to roll-out the Australian Skills Guarantee – a commitment for 1 in 10 jobs on major projects going to apprentices
  • A $54 million investment in two new paid work placement programs for job seekers with barriers to work.

‘If we want to create a truly fair Australian society, we need to build from these measures to keep improving access to great jobs for young people from less privileged backgrounds.’ – Lisa Fowkes, Director Employment, SVA

Outcomes Fund

It is pleasing to see the Government’s chosen focus areas for its new $100 million Outcomes Fund:

  • Outcomes for families and children to prevent intergenerational and community disadvantage
  • Barriers to employment and inclusive employment models
  • Housing needs of vulnerable and homeless Australians.

They align with our own recommendations for where social outcomes contracting could add value. Social Impact Bonds in these areas have already shown the potential to stimulate innovation and prove outcomes.

We look forward to seeing further detail on the design and to seeing this important work get underway.

‘A key benefit of the Outcomes Fund is the ability to understand what works (and what doesn’t) to deliver better social outcomes. Extra funding in this budget to evaluate the Outcomes Fund should ensure the findings are deeply understood and widely shared.’ – Kirsten Armstrong, Director Impact Investing, SVA

Early Childhood

There were some promising early years announcements in this year’s budget:

  • An extra $98.4 million in 2024–25 for the Inclusion Support Program, aligning to our submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry
  • A badly needed funding commitment towards a wage increase for early childhood education and care workers
  • Dedicated first-time funding for SNAICC – National Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to continue partnering with government on issues impacting First Nations children.

We are disappointed to see no other significant or structural reforms in early years funding, particularly:

  • No budget to extend the Early Years Support program, risking undermining Closing the Gap targets to build the community-controlled sector
  • Failure to remove the childcare subsidy activity test, ignoring recommendations from numerous consecutive reviews and enquiries and impacting 126,000 children who miss out on early childhood education due to the activity test
  • No funding to improve access to critical early childhood development supports for children and families in need or locally-led solutions through the national Early Years Strategy.

‘This budget’s early childhood commitments are far from ambitious enough to fix the issues with our patchy early years system. It’s letting many children fall through the cracks. We are hoping to see a much more substantive response from the Government to the Productivity Commission inquiry into Early Childhood Education and Care when it is handed down next month.’ – Emma Sydenham, Director Early Years, SVA

Other issues:

  • Housing: A pleasing significant additional investment to support housing supply. This includes increasing the Housing Australia Future Fund mandate by another $2.5 billion (now up to $10 billion) to help finance new homes. SVA sees an opportunity to better leverage impact investment to address supply needs.
  • First Nations: Much-needed funding for specific measures to progress the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, including in education, and funding to establish a National Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. However no new commitments for First Nations-led initiatives and programs to enable self-determination. This has been identified by the Productivity Commission as a significant gap.
  • Impacts of transition to net zero: Encouraging to see support for workers, families and communities impacted by the net zero transition. Communities experiencing disadvantage are being hit first and hardest by climate change and the economic transition. They have less money, choice, power and connections to prepare and adapt. This means they need targeted resources and support to participate and prosper as part of these significant changes.