Baillieu Government urged to reinstate $50m cuts to VCAL:

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Speech by the deputy chairman of the Family and Community Development Committee, the MP for Broadmeadows, Frank McGuire, after tabling the committee’s report in Parliament today.

Acting Speaker,

The Baillieu Government has been urged to help vulnerable students by reinstating the estimated $50 million funding cuts it made to VCAL.

The revelation is disclosed in a report I tabled in Parliament today as deputy chairman of the Family and Community Development Committee and could not be more relevant or timely in Mental Health Week.

The Brotherhood of St. Laurence made the call to reinstate the funding in testimony to the “Inquiry into Workforce Participation by People with a Mental Illness.”

The report contains dire warnings on the adverse consequences of the Coalition’s funding cuts with the Brotherhood citing the impact on a group of 50 students suffering mental health problems and social exclusion.

“Two of last year’s cohort attempted suicide, so they are a significant group of people that we are trying to engage in meaningful learning to get them back online,” the Brotherhood’s senior manager for research and policy, Mr Michael Horn, declared in response to my question to explain why he believed the re-instatement of the funding for VCAL coordinators is vital.

He described the plight of the students as: “Generally they have a history of being managed out of the mainstream education system or have become so-called (school) ‘refusers.’ They are a difficult group we are trying to engage.”

Mr. Horn highlighted the challenges the Brotherhood faces in operating the community VCAL in Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula.

“The model that we have developed has a higher student-to-staff teaching ratio, but we also felt the imperative to have a welfare role that provides non-educational support to keep those kids engaged and get them into the school and also help them, because they are doing community VCAL, achieve their placements outside of the Brotherhood setting. So there are additional costs in managing that process.”

The Brotherhood’s principal researcher, Dr Dina Bowman put it bluntly:

“Specifically we urge reinstatement of the funding for coordinator support for the community VCAL providers and funding for community-based learning support programs.”

The inquiry was told five per cent of Australians suffer deep social exclusion and the fragmented array of services and programs available at federal, state and non-community levels is not responsive and integrated enough for individual needs, especially young people with emerging health issues.

Employment is seen as a key to rehabilitation but needs strong relationships with employers, sensitivity to issues around disclosure, stigma and ongoing personal support.

Despite the benefits of employment, people with mental illness are up to 40 per cent less likely than people with no mental illness to participate in the workforce.

Mental illness is a bigger barrier to employment in Australia than a physical disability, the inquiry was told.

Further, a significant proportion of the 358,000 under-employed Victorians have mental illness.

This critical issue and its life-changing ramifications can affect anyone.

Middle class, well-educated Australians with jobs are vulnerable.

Calling for greater flexibility in the workplace, Dr Bowman warned people’s lives could spiral out of control if a mental health condition led to job loss and triggered a relationship breakdown and subsequent homelessness.

“I have interviewed a number of people who have been homeless as a result of inadequate support or a lack of timely support for their personal circumstances,” Dr Bowman said.

“What is important is that it is not just having an ambulance at the bottom, it is having one at the top of the cliff.”

WISE Employment told the inquiry Victorian tax payers would save millions of dollars by preventing people with mental illness being imprisoned.

“If we went down a preventative model rather than a punitive model, you reckon that the cost-benefit analysis would be $9 to $1?” I asked WISE Employment’s investment manager, Mr David Christian.

“That is right,” he replied.

“If you look at what happened in New York in the 1990s with the zero tolerance regime they ended up putting a lot of people in jail and building huge prisons. “Now these programs are busy trying to get people out of Rikers Island, which is an island complex that holds 18,000 prisoners just off the coast of New York, and trying to do a lot of rehabilitation to get those prison numbers down again,” WISE Employment CEO, Mr John Bateup testified.

Despite the lessons hard learned overseas, the Victorian Coalition has taken the road to perdition.

When I asked Mr Bateup if politics is the triumph of rational thought over emotions, he deadpanned: “In theory.”

The committee determined that the Victorian Government has a key leadership role to enable Victoria to experience the benefits of increased workforce participation by people with mental illness.

To increase participation, the committee has called on the Victorian Government to establish a mental health employment strategy across public and private sectors to change perceptions of mental illness in the workplace, prevent people with mental illness leaving work and education prematurely, create diverse and flexible employment pathways for people with mental illness and improve links between mental health and employment services.

Put simply, troubled youth need the Coalition’s cuts to VCAL reinstated.

Middle-class, hard- working Victorians need support systems to help them keep their jobs in challenging times.

Victoria needs more jobs instead of more jails.

We await the Coalition’s enlightened response.

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