This, my first full year at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, has been a year where issues that go to the heart of the ‘fair go’, including adequacy of social security payment rates and the challenge of climate change, have come into sharper focus.
In this context we have articulated our new strategy (2019-23). This focuses our efforts on creating change that lasts – with and for those members of our community who are at risk of being left behind by the impacts of labour market, demographic and environmental changes in Australia.
However you look at it, our cherished value of a fair go sits in stark contrast to the lack of agency that the increasingly punitive social security system affords people who experience disadvantage; especially those on Newstart.
It is increasingly difficult for people to live a life of dignity where they can contribute to, and share in, prosperity. A growing coalition of voices – not just in the community and social sector, but also of business and political leaders – is calling for a review of Newstart. We actively support that call, and also believe that the underlying principles of our social security system need to change.
Our society has changed, and our social security system needs to change with it.
For those who can work, meaningful employment is key to a life of dignity. But enabling people to have a meaningful job is not just about individuals. It is also about supporting employers to adapt their recruitment and induction practices. It is about the way you design job services at a policy level. It is about how we connect jobseekers with their aspirations and talents. This multifaceted approach to addressing disadvantage is what creates lasting change, and that is what the Brotherhood excels in.
Our focus on creating lasting change has been reaffirmed in our new 2019-23 Strategic Plan and is core to our mission. We aim to leverage our and our partners’ work to build community awareness, and convert insights into recommendations on practice and policy change. Through our service development, innovation, research and partnerships, we will continue to gather and share insights to bring about change in policy and community attitudes.
Everything we have been able to achieve is because of our strong relationships. In our partnerships, we remain responsible for the integrity of the program model and we support its evaluation. Working with Launch Housing and Berry Street, for example, we deliver our Education First Youth Foyer model in Melbourne and Shepparton. The model not only supports young people at risk of homelessness with secure housing to live and study, but also provides a pathway to sustainable independent living.
Similarly, through our Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY), which supports young families to provide a rich home learning environment for preschool children, we partner with over 60 community organisations in 100 communities around Australia, to reach 4,500 families each year.
Embedded in all of our youth programs, the Advantaged Thinking approach, which works with the aspirations and talents of participants, has shown marked success. Our Transition to Work program led the development of a national Community of Practice, which resulted, in 2018, in the federal government commissioning a Brotherhood-led National Youth Employment Body to drive a national response to youth unemployment. This is just one of the ways we use our footprint, along with those of our partners, to drive systemic change.
2018-19 has been a year of increasing awareness of, and conversation around, the impacts of climate change. We’re proud that our decade of work leading the discussion around energy affordability directly influenced the introduction of the Victorian Default Energy Offer. We’ve also worked to provide energy-saving initiatives to low-income households struggling with energy bills directly, and we’ve partnered with Schneider Electric to extend this direct impact.
Much of the work we do to drive changes in the service system happens in dialogue with other practitioners and policy makers. Using our practice network for Local Area Coordination, for example, we can provide feedback from our collective experience to the National Disability Insurance Agency, which influences policy choices and improves the ways in which services are coordinated and delivered to people with disability.
As we move forward, the Brotherhood will also look to be more visible in the community, and more proactively engage the community, in driving lasting change. I often say that the Brotherhood is Australia’s best kept secret. It’s time for us to engage deeper and wider, and to raise our voice in driving lasting change together.
Conny LennebergExecutive Director
Next year, the Brotherhood of St Laurence marks its ninetieth anniversary – a remarkable run for a social change organisation with an ambition to reform society.
A passionate belief in the Christian message of compassion and faith in action inspired the Brotherhood’s founder – Father Gerard Tucker, an Anglican priest and activist, whose vocation was intertwined with the goal for an Australia free of poverty. His task remains an ongoing challenge for our country – and for us all.
Amid our national prosperity, I am concerned that our conscience and our sense of a shared responsibility as Australians have dulled to the profound challenges of poverty and homelessness that persist in our country. Troublingly, the language of ‘moral failings’ – the attribution of social disadvantage to personal moral failure – has crept into our public discourse. This suggests that some people prosper because of their good efforts and advantages, and other people in our community fall behind because of some perceived individual deficit. For the common good, we must channel Father Tucker’s passion and challenge this very hurtful narrative – while also moving to practical action to counter it, as he did.
We need, therefore, to both speak and act.
As these pages vividly show, this organisation combines both goals. It began, as it meant to go on, with a culture of innovation and focus on finding solutions to society’s ills. “The Brotherhood must do on a small scale what governments should do on a large scale,” said Father Tucker. Today, this remains an animating spirit for the Brotherhood as we seek to seed new ideas with governments, business and community partners. Guided by our 2019-23 strategy, the Brotherhood is well poised to meet the challenges of our turbulent times where, it seems, we need to turn up the volume very high to be heard. These are highly vulnerable times for many people: for example, one can swiftly move from an insecure rental market to homelessness.
I am heartened, however, by the transformative stories of people I meet in places like the Education First Youth Foyer where young homeless people find a home while getting an education. The wonderful success rate of this initiative suggests to me that there are constructive interventions we can make to seemingly intractable social problems. Indeed, the encouraging lesson from the Brotherhood’s work is that no social problem need be intractable in a society as fortunate as ours.
I thank the staff, volunteers and the Board for their hard work and commitment to this vital mission.
The Most Revd Dr Philip FreierChair of the Board