Budget doesn't pass fairness test for disadvantaged young people

13 May 2014

Disadvantaged young people have been ignored by a budget that “doesn’t pass the fairness test” according to The Smith Family, Australia’s largest children’s education charity.

The charity said the budget failed to deliver a long-term commitment to tackling entrenched educational underperformance among disadvantaged young people and ignored the need to improve work attainment after school, despite a worsening youth unemployment problem.

The Smith Family’s CEO, Dr Lisa O’Brien, said the decision not to deliver on the previous government’s long-term funding commitments in education would mean the large gap in educational outcomes between disadvantaged and advantaged young Australians would remain.

“This is a disappointing budget for those of us tasked with supporting the education of disadvantaged young Australians and their families,” said Dr O’Brien.

“In terms of education funding, we sought a pledge that signaled the government’s long-term commitment to tackling entrenched educational underperformance among children and young people in disadvantaged Australian communities – a level of underperformance that is going to take more than 4 years to turn around – and that hasn’t materialised.

“We recognise the accuracy in the government’s view that improving educational outcomes among disadvantaged young people is about more than just ‘more funding’ – that it is also about teacher quality, parental engagement and school autonomy.

“But such is the scale of the problem Australia is facing in educational performance among young people in disadvantaged communities, we needed a commitment to significant ongoing funds to turn that around long-term – and that’s not occurred.

“What we’ve got instead is an additional $54 million in education funding for 2017-18 to cover CPI and then dramatically less than was expected under previous arrangements up to 2024-25.

“In terms of higher education reform, removing the cap from student fees and lowering the income threshold for repaying Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debts will likely discourage disadvantaged young people from university.

“Disadvantaged students – unsurprisingly – are more sensitive to price, even if fees are deferred through the taxation system, so any changes in this area is going to affect them.

“We are pleased to see the government’s recognition of the problem – that higher education institutions will need to dedicate 20% of their additional revenue raised through student contributions to scholarships and other supports for disadvantaged students.

“We’re similarly pleased to see HELP extended to VET and Diploma courses, but we are concerned to see both sit alongside a cut of $51.3m to universities to support access, retention and completion of low income students through the Access and Participation Fund.

“Time will tell if these measures offset the impact of increased student contributions.

“In terms of the government’s recognition of the difficulties facing disadvantaged young people as they make the difficult transition from school to work or further study, we have to declare our strong disappointment.

“For example, the government has weakened its claim to be serious about Australia’s growing youth unemployment problem by not announcing a national program to replace the Partnership Brokers and Youth Connections programs which run out of funding at the end of 2014.

“More than ever Australia needs a national approach to improving young peoples’ pathways to work.

“The budget’s failure to recognise this fact means we’re all worse off – young people and their families, employers and their communities.

“We’re pleased to see a commitment of an additional $13.4 million over four years for 3000 additional places for Indigenous boys to participate in the Sporting Chance program which seeks to improve health, education, training and employment outcomes.

“However, from our experience we think more needs to be done in this area for Indigenous girls and young women and this is a missed opportunity.

“The abolition of the COAG Reform Council speaks volumes about the role the government intends to play – or not play – in the education space.

“The COAG reform agenda – as it relates to education – was forged between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments in 2008 to make sure young Australians, wherever they might be based, whatever their background, had equal access to education and educational opportunity.

“The COAG Reform Council was the body established to measure and report on these and other outcomes related to the COAG reform agenda.

“By abolishing the COAG Reform Council the current government undermines its own message concerning the pursuit of equality in education across Australia. It suggests a view that whatever happens in terms of educational performance within state and territory boundaries is not its concern.

"Finally, we welcome the government’s commitment to five year funding agreements to provide the Communities for Children program to assist vulnerable families.

“The government has emphasised infrastructure in this year’s budget, particularly roads.

“We need good roads but we also need a steady supply of skilled people from across our nation and will do for decades to come.

“That means focusing on securing the nation’s future through education – for every child, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Tonight’s budget makes that job so much more difficult,” said Dr O’Brien.

Media contact: Paul Andrews 0409 665 495