Violence or poverty: social security is the key to reform

Every person affected by family and domestic violence should be able to access adequate financial support to leave an abusive situation and rebuild their life in a safe home. To ensure that essential social security reform remains a priority over the next decade, SSRV has added our signature to those of 500+ other organisations, including the leaders of 67 key domestic violence, welfare and other aligned organisations, in an open letter to the relevant Ministers. 

The open letter calls for the Government to ensure that social security is embedded in the new National Plan to end violence against women and children.

Economic Justice Australia (EJA), the authors of the open letter, have since had positive meetings with Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, and Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth. The ministers understood and were sympathetic to the issues and indicated they were open to exploring the possibility of changes to the law.

The Department of Social Services will be working over the next couple of months on developing a brief for the Minister and have agreed to consult EJA on the draft.

SSRV will keep you updated as news comes to hand.

Did you know?

As we all know, disasters can have unexpected consequences for those affected. For some, this can include impacts on their social security entitlements and obligations.

A disaster, such as a flood or bushfire, may result in a person losing their identification documents, for example. This can result in a Centrelink dispute about proving their identity when they go to apply for a Disaster Payment.

Another common example is where correspondence from Centrelink goes undelivered or not received due to the postal address being one in a disaster affected region. The letter sent by Centrelink might include important time limitations which are easily missed if the recipient does not receive the letter, and they may not even know the letter was sent.

At SSRV we understand the significant impact a disaster can have on your social security entitlements – and we’re ready to help.

Find out more about SSRV’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan and read more from our Did You Know? series.

Staff Profile: Margie Ambrose, Communications Officer

I joined SSRV at the end of 2020, at a time when the vulnerabilities of the many Australians had come into sharp focus due to the pandemic and many of us were having our first interactions with Centrelink – and a time when I was thrilled to be doing work that wasn’t home-schooling. 

I create and manage all the external communications for SSRV, including website content, social media, and the development of our monthly email newsletter. It’s important work, simply because if people don’t know we exist, or are unsure about how we can help them, how will they know to reach out to us when they need it the most? 

The team at SSRV are some of the smartest, most passionate people I have worked with. The dignity and rights of our clients are their motivation and working with them inspires me in the work I do. 

They’re also willing to step out of their comfort zones in order to help the most vulnerable members of our community. Some of our staff have written articles for me, having never written one before, and most recently, they have started producing video clips for our website and social media, which can be confronting and challenging for anyone. 

All this produces an engaged and energetic workplace vibe, which is probably the thing I love about working for SSRV the most. 

I am a single mum of two girls, who are bold and clever, and who never walk past an injustice without taking action, which makes me think I must be doing something right. When I’m not working, I enjoy hanging out with them, paddle boarding, hiking, bike-riding or watching Stranger Things for the twentieth time. 

Homelessness and social security rights

Every night there are 116,000 Australians sleeping without a home. They are mothers and children escaping family violence, young people with little support, families unable to keep up with rent, people living with disabilities. Once, homelessness was thought by many to be something that happens to other people, but that’s changing.  

Homelessness is a growing crisis in Australia. Rising interest rates mean landlords have needed to increase rents. Add to rising rents the increase in cost of living and basic necessities such as food and heating and you can understand why, for many families living on Centrelink payments, housing has become simply unaffordable.   

The theme for this year’s Homelessness Week was ‘to end homelessness we need a plan’, and at SSRV we believe that plan needs to address the rate of Centrelink payments and issues of equality and accessibility to social security. 

Without a liveable rate of social security, families will continue to be unable to afford to pay rent. Without equal access to social security, the number of the most vulnerable people in our communities experiencing homelessness will continue to grow.  

SSRV will continue to work for real change to our social security system, while providing free legal advice on social security and Centrelink matters for people right across Victoria. 

The Choice: violence or poverty

Violence or poverty: this is the terrible choice many women escaping family violence in Australia face every day. This week, ABC’s current affairs discussion show Q and A dedicated an entire episode to addressing the issues around single mothers and poverty.

The program focused on a newly-released report from journalist and researcher Anne Summers that drew on data especially prepared by the ABS mostly from the 2016 Personal Safety Survey. 

The panel included Anne Summers, Jess Hill, author of See What You Made Me Do, Veronica Gorrie, author of Black and Blue, Federal MP Anne Aly and anti-violence activist, Arman Abrahimzadeh, who all took questions from the audience, including Leanne Ho from Economic Justice Australia, who asked a question we consider crucial to addressing family violence:

“What will the new Labor government do to ensure that economic security, particularly social security income support, is included in the new National Plan for the Safety of Women and Children?”

While Minister Aly re-affirmed the Federal Government’s commitment to supporting single mothers escaping family violence, there was no such commitment to include an increase in social security as part of its National Plan for the Safety of Women and Children.

Watch The Choice: violence or poverty on iView.

SSRV believes that women escaping family violence will continue to be faced with the choice between violence and poverty unless livable social security rates are addressed.

Next Friday, Federal and State ministers with portfolios responsible for women’s safety will meet to discuss economic safety for women. We are urging these ministers to make economic security a key pillar of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children.

Georgina Sack, Executive Assistant

I started my position as executive assistant to SSRV Director Gillian Wilks in 2021. My role is to assist a very busy Gillian with day-to-day tasks and requirements and act as liaison with staff and some of our external stakeholders. This gives Gillian the ability to focus on the bigger SSRV organisational picture.  

Due to the pandemic, I had to start the position remotely and get to know everyone via Zoom. It was wonderful returning to the office a couple of months ago – I had the chance to see how ‘tall’ everyone is.

This is the first time I have worked in a community legal service. My working background has been a varied one, working in primary schools, hospitals, medical research institutes and colleges. I even had a job working at the Museum of Victoria when it was situated alongside the State Library. We worked up in the roof top area and to get to the staff tearoom we had to walk across scaffolding without handrails. Quite a feat and I’m still here to tell the tale!

When I am not at work, I enjoy scuba diving and bush camping; both activities I prefer in summer to winter. I also enjoy daily walks with our greyhound Mr Henry.

The SSRV team is a very dedicated and compassionate team, working in a challenging area of community law, and I feel very privileged to be supporting them.

SSRV’s Integrated Services Project: expanding our reach

Recently SSRV’s Integrated Services Project has taken opportunities to get out and about, connecting with communities at in-person events both in Melbourne and regional Victoria.

At the end of May, the Integrated Services Project (ISP) team – Graeme Parsons, financial counsellor and Dermott Williams, community lawyer – were invited to visit Ballarat and take part in a debt expo organised by Ballarat and Grampians Community Legal Service. The conversations Graeme and Dermott had were meaningful, and it was great to connect with people in their own community rather than remotely, the way SSRV normally operates. 

This is particularly important in regional locations, where, as we’ve seen with other events such as one’s we’ve contributed to in Gippsland, that face-to-face contact and trust building is essential to meeting the needs of clients and other community organisations with which we work.

In early June, the ISP team participated in the Young Carers Festival, closer to home at the MCG. Graeme and Dermott attended with a team from FCVic to promote the work of financial counsellors and SSRV to carers and their families, with a particular focus on issues they may be facing with Centrelink and social security related issues. It was a fantastic evening with many impactful conversations happening throughout the night.

SSRV is looking forward to more opportunities like these, visiting and engaging with people outside the constraints of our usual service delivery and in the best way for the people who need us.

Did you know?

Every day, Centrelink makes thousands of decisions about payments, debts and other matters governed by the Social Security Act 1991. The number of decisions also increases significantly in the aftermath of a disaster.

Sometimes Centrelink gets these decisions wrong. Any decision can be appealed at no cost through a process conducted by an Authorised Review Officer.

If you aren’t happy with the review officer’s decision, this can also be appealed at no cost, to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. 

Economic Justice Australia has published more detail about this.

Find out more about SSRV’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan and read more from our Did You Know? series.

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