Do my stats look good in this, Paula?

I love my job with a passion that often drives me to work too hard, but usually leaves me filled with hopefulness and a sense of acheivement around making our world a safer and more joyful place.

That’s maybe unusual.  It certainly, much of the time, feels precious and something I am reluctant to change.

But it’s not easy working in the community sector these days.  Every community agency I know anything about has a whopping budget deficit they spend too much time trying to plug with donations, grants and applications, constant applications for often tiny amounts of money.  We have to apply to multiple departments – which can be used against us, as one ministry washes it’s hands of an issue, say family violence, because another ministry can see there are needs they must try and meet.

Our outcome monitoring is a joke.  Most community sector organisations are so busy dealing with the people coming in our doors that gathering information to justify what we do – let alone do it well – becomes a constant challenge.  In most areas, there is little standardisation even of the information we should be producing, let alone basic things like databases and resources, including people, to complete them.

The community sector is under more pressure than I can ever remember in my twenty years in the field.  We do not have enough money to pay the people we need to do the work.   The last Refuge I volunteered at worked with the number of women and children Child Youth and Family contracted us for annually in just five weeks.  Every year.  The rest of our funding was scrambled and constantly under threat.  We relied on twenty plus volunteers to staff the crisis line, collect donations, introduce women and children to the safe house, write policy, provide counselling, and generally do all the things that literally save lives for women and children living with dangerous men.

Much of this predates the recession and the present Government.  Much of it is far, far worse now, as public spending cuts in reality mean loss of funding for community agencies who work with real people.  They also mean more pressure on the philanthropic trusts and grants which make up the difference for us, as more of us have to apply for everything.

Karl du Fresne, as usual, had his finger on the Right’s pulse when he wrote last year of his disdain for the community sector:

A sceptical view, based on our stubbornly dismal statistics for child neglect, poor health, drug and alcohol addiction, teenage pregnancies, welfare dependency and family violence, is that they’re making bugger-all difference to anything.

But they certainly provide careers for a lot of well-intentioned, middle-class women.

An even bleaker view is that these organisations may be part of the problem rather than the solution, discour- aging people from taking greater responsibility for their own lives in the knowledge that helping agencies are always on hand to sort things out for them (in a non-judgmental way, of course).

The current government, and Paula Bennett in particular, have a new Community Response Model happening.  There are 14 local forums, made up of “the community”, who will decide how local community monies are spent, based on local community need.  Every single person involved in the forums has been appointed, presumably by Ms Bennett.  The “community” members are listed by name only – we know nothing about why Paula Bennett chose them.

We do know 45 of the appointees are women, and 34 men.  Which would seem like women were well-represented, if we didn’t already know from Karl du Fresne who works in the community sector.

We do not yet know how they will meet with those who provide services.  We do know there will not be a application process for funds, instead “Community Funding Plans” will decide where money goes and how.   

Ordinarily, I’d support local communities deciding what they need.  But this model reeks of cutting services and giving jobs to friends, with no come-back if things go wrong.  Appointment process for forum members?  No application necessary, just have a chat with Paula?  What about the community who says “we’re middle-class, there’s no rape here, let’s cut that Rape Crisis”?

Make no mistake, things are tough in the community sector.  They’re about to get tougher unless you have good connections with the government.

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