2015-16 Federal Budget

What's In Store For Community Mental Health Services?

The 2015-2016 Federal Budget was announced on 12 May with little attention given to mental health, which was, unfortunately, not unexpected. The budget was mostly silent on a plan for long-term mental health reforms, with no definitive response to the National Mental Health Commission's review, nor any involved planning for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

VICSERV welcomes the announcement in the Budget of the Government's intention to collaborate with states and territories over a National Mental Health Plan to integrate the approach to mental health and suicide prevention, and the small measures in relation to mental health, which show a positive regard for improving mental health services.

Disappointingly however, this budget falls short of approximately $34 million in what was forecast for mental health spending last year. In addition, the Government will continue its freeze on indexation across almost 80 government programs, including mental health programs. This act will have flow-on effects for mental health services, the nature of which is still unknown.

Overall, VICSERV is pleased that the Federal Budget has acknowledged the Government's intention to proceed with a much-needed coordinated National Mental Health Plan, but believes more tangible initiatives addressing long-term mental health reform should be developed. VICSERV will continue working with its members to ensure that the Federal Government meets its promises and responsibilities to those affected by mental illness, their carers and families.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has conducted an analysis of the Budget, expressing concern that it has left many holes in much needed social services. In particular, cuts to housing and programs to improve ATSI outcomes are seen as an unfair means of pushing savings.

Below are some key measures introduced by the Budget. A further useful summary of the Budget by Mental Health Australia can be found here.

NDIS

The Budget pledged $143 million over four years for an Information and Communication Technology system for the NDIA. No funding has been allocated for upgrading service-provider IT systems.

Regional And Remote Communities

The need for improved access to mental health support for regional and remote consumers has been recognised in the Budget with the announcement that the Government will fund $20 million towards expanding mental health services into some drought-affected communities.

Carers

Recognising the value of carers in looking after consumers with a disability, including mental health, the Government has also committed $33.7 million over four years to work on a National Carer Gateway, with a view to opening this front door information and referral service by December 2015. This is seen as the first step in the Government's Integrated Plan for Carer Support Services, which will incorporate counselling, respite and employment support for carers.

Youth

The Budget focuses on improving youth unemployment, especially for vulnerable groups such as refugees and those living with mental illness. A sum of $105.7 million over five years will be put towards services engaging with disadvantaged youth around jobs, employment support trials, up-skilling workshops and assistance with job preparedness.

Young people leaving care will also be exempt from having to actively seek work for four weeks before receiving a welfare payment, which will now apply to job-seekers under 25 years of age. Other groups excluded from this measure will be primary carers, participants in Disability Employment Services and those assessed as requiring greater assistance to obtain employment, such as those with serious mental illness.

VCOSS media release has expressed disappointment over the Government's response to youth and unemployment strategies.

Other Areas

Funding for The National Mental Health Commission has been renewed for a further three years.

The Government has committed $20.7 million over four years to develop a valuation of the lifetime costs to Australia's welfare system. The project will also investigate those most at risk of long-term welfare dependency and the causal factors for this.

 

RESPONSES AND SUMMARIES

VCOSS has issued a media release in response to the federal budget, stating that 'it leaves the poorest Australians to do the bulk of the heavy lifting', while ACOSS has released a report with a summary of the changes and their impacts.

Another useful summary has been provided by VCOSS, who released a 'snapshot analysis', available here.

To view the summary by Mental Health Australia click here.