AHURI conference highlights choice in delivering welfare, housing services
My way home: competition and choice in human services
20 Apr 2016
The very successful AHURI one day national conference My way home: competition and choice in human services was held in Melbourne on Wednesday, 13 April.
A large and appreciative audience of 150 people came from across Australia to hear speakers in the disability, housing assistance, homelessness, aged care and mental health sectors present their experiences and knowledge of competition and choice in delivering human services.
Conference presentations and video
In his opening address Hon Brad Hazzard MP, NSW Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister for Social Housing, outlined the NSW Government's new Communities Plus policy whereby government will partner with the private sector to build new social and affordable housing. The NSW Government believes that competition among private developers will encourage them to come up with ways to provide more and better quality social and affordable housing than would otherwise be the case.
Following on, Professor Ian Harper, the first conference keynote speaker, discussed findings of the Competition Policy Review into competition and choice in human services. The Review proposed that having a number of different providers of government services (including welfare services) leads to competition amongst these services, which in turn delivers long-term benefits for consumers; drives choice; encourages efficiency and innovation from providers; and contributes to productivity growth and higher living standards for Australians.
Professor Harper was keen to point out that one size of competitive service delivery will not fit all clients, and that there needs to be implementation trials across different services and locations. He also stated that growing productivity is about more than cost efficiency, and that trial assessments must take this into account.
Using the example of the NDIS, Professor Harper believes that choice in the delivery of welfare services also helps build human dignity for those who must rely on government welfare, and that giving the consumer the right to say 'No' to one provider and choose another is vital in building self-esteem.
The afternoon presentation by Professor Kath Hulse from AHURI Research Centre—Swinburne University of Technology included the latest evidence on the impacts of welfare consumer demand and choice. Households and governments can see benefits such as greater personal responsibility; ability to make trade-offs between location and type/size of housing; target assistance specifically to need; and tying services to other welfare reform objectives. However, there are potential negatives such as vulnerable people not being able to negotiate access to housing; squeezing low income people from job rich areas; difficulty for governments to control expenditures when they are demand driven; potential upward pressure on rents in some markets; and ineffectiveness in increasing supply at the low rent end of the market.
The conference also included two panel sessions. The morning session, Lessons from leaders: consumer choice in action, gave leaders from a number of community housing providers space to show what they are doing to maximise client choices in regards to housing and services, and what policy reforms they see as necessary to further competition in provision and/or choice amongst clients.
In a very open and honest way the panellists discussed how they balanced the requirements of government-stated objectives, insufficient affordable housing and the desire to give their customers the best outcomes possible where every customer has different needs and wants. There was agreement that consumer welfare choice is constrained within a set price and regulations, and that one-size-fits-all policy decisions do not work, either for customers or for the organisations providing the help.
The afternoon session, Vision for change: the policy solutions, had panellists from Commonwealth and State government departments; from government agencies and from not-for-profit welfare providers discussing the strengths and weaknesses of policies promoting competition and choice.
The panel believed that promoting consumer choice will require an increase in affordable housing supply and that competition policy can play a role in reform, which can lead to new investment strategies. Panellists had concern that consumers will need education so that they have the information in order to make the best choices for themselves based on the viable options, and that, although there has been extensive modelling, the possible outcomes of the changes are not fully understood, but that the community needs 'to get on and have a go'.
Conference presentations and video