The year is almost over, and I am sure that most of us are quite keen to see the back of 2020. Referrals have been slow in many areas, but the pressures on the sector are still present – just in new guises.
Working from home has brought challenges for many financial counsellors: juggling complex casework, trying to figure workarounds for vulnerable clients who struggle to engage outside of a face-to-face format, and of course our responsibilities at home to our families and loved ones. There are also the external threats to the community stemming from the proposed reforms to Responsible Lending Obligations, and the reduction of the Jobseeker supplement, that will mean that many Australians are at greater risk of poverty.
FCVic has shown great agility and has been alive to these developments. We have our finger on the pulse, with a second survey into the levels of stress and work overload in the sector, as well as efforts in the ‘Save Safe Lending’ and ‘Raise the Rate’ campaigns – the latter through the great work of the Centrelink Working Group.
FCVic has been busy working on a series of new projects, which provide opportunities for financial counselling to further expand its reach, in addition to increasing support for our members. In the last six months, the FCVic staff size has doubled from six to 12. One of the new team members, Joy Mason, has been supporting 25 financial counselling interns spread across 17 Victorian agencies through her role as Workforce Development Officer.
FCVic has brought together a capable and experienced team as part of our work on the Small Business Wellbeing project. Financial counsellors, Helen Brady and Sandra Blake, have been engaged to assist with the training and support of the new Small Business Financial Counselling team at EACH. Bev Kliger and Meredith Carter have also been enlisted as consultants to provide wider advocacy and support in engaging with the small business peak bodies. The team is being skillfully led by Dr Suzy Goldsmith, FCVic Special Projects Lead, while our Executive Officer, Dr Sandy Ross, works to support this project through the Technical Advisory Group.
Earlier this year, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning funded a package that included funding for 10 FTE financial counsellor positions, allocated by Consumer Affairs Victoria amongst its funded agencies. FCVic has also received funding to further support this development.
Following last month’s Annual General Meeting, the FCVic Board has been renewed and I welcome Narelle Clark, Sarah Davidson and Bernadette Pasco, who were elected to the Board. The Board has recently finalised its work on a risk review, and continues its work to help guide FCVic in the development of professional standards.
I would like to thank the FCVic staff for their agility in pivoting to a virtual AGM and a virtual gala awards event. The latter was a real boon for the sector, considering how isolated we have all been during lockdown. It was great to get together with you all.
In closing, I want to thank the FCVic Board, staff, and the sector for the great work during trying times. I encourage you all to be active in the Save Safe Lending Campaign. This campaign is vital in ensuring vulnerable community members are protected from predatory lending, as well as making sure that we aren’t sowing the seeds of the next GFC to secure a short-term sugar hit to the economy.