"Pushing through' - Charities in 2022

For the last two years charities have moved mountains to be able to continue serving their communities. That work is far from done. At a time when silence empowers injustice, it’s time to make some noise writes CCA CEO David Crosbie in Pro Bono News.

‘Pushing through’ – Charities in 2022, Pro Bono News, 27 January 2022

“Omicron is a gear change and we have to push through. That is what Omicron is about.” – Prime Minister Scott Morrison, 10 January 2022.

When the pandemic first hit two years ago many charities were confronted with massive challenges; loss of income, loss of volunteers, loss of the capacity to operate face-to-face services or events, whole staff teams having to work from home. At the same time there was a surge in demand for the services provided by charities, not just in food and shelter and emergency relief, but also in keeping people connected to their communities.

The charities sector itself, including CCA and the Charities Crisis Cabinet, stepped up and advocated successfully for additional government support. The federal government offered concessional access to the JobKeeper scheme, and provided incentives for philanthropists to give more during the pandemic (well done Philanthropy Australia). There was a willingness to relax funding and contractual obligations, enabling more flexibility in the way charities could use government and philanthropic funds to advance their mission. 

While the majority of charities were able to rise to the challenges, some struggled to continue, and some had to suspend their services. 

At CCA we were inspired by what we saw the charities sector achieving. There was a “can do” and “must do” approach within many charities that empowered their leaders and their staff to not just push through and keep their organisations operating, but to find new ways to support their communities.

There was also a level of optimism that we would all be stronger once the pandemic had passed. 

Since those early days of the pandemic, multiple waves of infections have created new levels of need within our communities, and charities have had to continually adapt. With each new wave, each new demand on charities, the level of government support seems to have diminished.

And here we are again in 2022, adapting, stretching what was already stretched, to support our communities. There are still some government concessions for charities, some limited additional funding, but most charities are now facing the many challenges of living and working in a pandemic without additional government support. And that seems unlikely to change.

Two years of continually pushing through has left many running on empty.

Not only are governments now less inclined to offer support to charities, they are also less inclined to listen, to even acknowledge the reality of community needs. 

While the news media debates whether the Australian of the Year should have to smile and pose appropriately for the prime minister’s photo opportunity, there is little real story telling about what is happening in communities across Australia being ravaged by the pandemic. 

We appear to be at a point in partisan political discourse where to even talk about the extent of harm created by the pandemic is to be seen as supporting one side of politics over another. 

Within this context, charities are a problem because they are often focused on mediating and reducing the harm caused by a highly contagious infectious disease killing 50-plus Australians a day. It is worth noting that the 50-plus people a day dying from COVID-19 are generally more likely to be people that charities work with in aged care, disability, and chronic disease. 

“Pushing through” has become harder in 2022, both within charities and within the broader public policy forums. It has also become more important than ever before.

For the last two years charities have moved mountains to be able to continue serving their communities, connecting, and empowering individuals and communities, fulfilling their purpose. This work is far from over, even as we all tire from the pandemic. 

While we don’t know when the pandemic will end, we do know that leaving the more vulnerable to fend for themselves and hoping they can “push through” is not an option. 

It is charities and a myriad of community groups that will continue to step into the space our government seems to have vacated. Without the support of charities and community groups, more people will die, more will become ill, more will suffer poor health, social and economic outcomes. 

There is also a broader community role for charities to play. Validating the experiences of vulnerable groups by creating platforms for them to speak and helping to amplify their stories has become one of the most powerful and important actions any of us can engage in. 

Some might argue that it was not until we moved past the stigma and raw numbers to personalise and promote the stories of people dying from HIV/AIDS that real preventative action was taken in Australia last century. It took fearless advocacy to break down the stigma.

What is breathtakingly remarkable about the current pandemic in Australia is the invisibility of people dying from COVID. Hundreds of people will die this week. We rarely see or hear about the dying patient, the aged care resident locked down and living in fear, the person not able to access the healthcare they need, and many others suffering often because of their vulnerability. Where are their faces, their voices, their stories? You can’t even find their names anywhere, including in reports about their deaths! 

In some ways the invisibility of the dead and the vulnerable is an indictment on us all. They are us.

Charities will push through 2022 with ongoing determination to fulfil their mission despite all the obstacles. This is a given because charities and the community sector are committed to their purpose as the reason they exist. 

This year will also present new opportunities for charities to “push through” in the broader public discourse and media debates. This aspect of pushing through is not only about validating the lives and experiences of the people we serve, but also critical to our future as a sector and as a country.

On a day when 65 unidentified Australians died from COVID-19, the most important news item is not the struggles of a businessman who has lost some income and had to postpone a family reunion. 

Silence empowers injustice. Time to make some noise.

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