Australia’s leading aid agencies call for urgent action to support the charities amid COVID-19 crisis

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Seven of Australia’s leading international aid agencies are urging the Federal Government to include in their COVID-19 economic support package specific measures to help charities continue their life-saving work in the most vulnerable communities worldwide.

The organisations – CARE Australia, ChildFund Australia, Fred Hollows Foundation, Oxfam Australia, Plan International Australia, Save the Children Australia and World Vision Australia – said the not-for-profit sector was facing a perfect storm of falling revenue and unprecedented demand for their services fuelled by the pandemic.

The call comes at a time when international aid programs are even more vital, as developing countries face the risk of health systems being overwhelmed by the crisis.

Many international agencies are already adapting their work to deliver life-saving aid in response to the COVID-19 emergency, to protect people and reduce infection rates. So, we are deeply concerned about the impact of ceasing vital services at a time of unprecedented need – now more than ever, each person’s health is dependent on everyone else’s.

While we welcome the announcement of the government’s JobKeeper measures, which are now being developed, we call on the government and opposition to ensure large international aid agencies, which help millions of the most disadvantaged people – especially women and children, in Australia and overseas each year – are included in this support package.

We echo calls by the recently formed Charities Crisis Cabinet for greater support and flexible arrangements for the sector reliant on donations and grants, including:

  • increasing the tax deduction for donations to registered charities to 150 per cent, reviewable after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • establishing a $750m Australian Charities Stabilisation Fund for charities registered with the ACNC to help to stabilise and manage cash flow as a result of COVID-19
  • low- or no-interest loans over an initial 12-month period to help with liquidity, as most charities do not have the capacity to take on debt under loans
  • lifting the cap for Fringe Benefit Tax exemptions/salary packaging for charities

Many organisations are facing a battle to survive as they contend with reduced donations from the public, while managing vastly increased workloads due to the pandemic. According to the Community Council for Australia, some of the nation’s strongest charities face losing between 20 and 40 per cent of their workforces, meaning the potential loss of up to 250,000 jobs.

Currently, Australian charities employ 1.26 million people, rely on more than 3.5 million volunteers, and contribute about 8 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product – similar in scale to the resources sector.

We believe Australia’s role as a good neighbour and global citizen has never been more important and that charities such as ours are well placed to provide urgent hygiene and healthcare to limit the spread of coronavirus. That is why we are urging the government to work with us to limit the spread of the virus at home and in our region.

Australia’s international aid agencies are committed to standing by fellow Australians and our international neighbours, and to continue our crucial work of supporting communities. But we also need the Australian Government to stand by us in this time of a global crisis.

ChildFund Australia implements a range of child-focused development programs in the Asia-Pacific region and has serious concerns about the potential impact of COVID-19 in those developing countries where the health infrastructure is poor.

Infectious diseases like COVID-19 can have a detrimental and long-term impact on children in the communities where ChildFund works; these children are already highly vulnerable and COVID-19 not only threatens their physical health and wellbeing, but the hard-fought development advances of the past 20 years.

  • Children who are already malnourished have weakened immune systems and are therefore less able to fight infection.
  • Containment procedures can mean children are unable to attend school; education is vital for children if they are to break the cycle of disadvantage.
  • In many developing communities, children are cared for by grandparents while their parents pursue work; COVID-19 presents a much greater health risk for older adults.
  • Children and families in remote areas may not have access to nearby health facilities if they contract the virus.
  • The restrictions that come with COVID-19 threaten to plunge the working poor back into poverty and exacerbate economic hardships for the millions of poor living in those communities and countries where ChildFund works.

The economic impact of the virus should not be underestimated and is being felt across the globe. In developing communities, many parents may find themselves out of work due to business closures or containment procedures.

A reduction in household income can mean that families are forced to cut back on spending in essential areas such as education, nutritious food and healthcare for their children. Families risk back-sliding into extreme poverty, and ChildFund’s long-term development programs will be crucial in helping affected communities once the immediate danger of the virus has passed.

Currently ChildFund is closely monitoring the COVID-19 crisis in all countries where we work, working with relevant government partners and health professionals to promote prevention messages.

Preventing the spread of the disease is the best course of action in countries where testing is weak and expensive, and healthcare systems are already stretched.

In all communities, ChildFund is ramping up its programs in disease prevention and containment. This includes raising awareness of the importance of hand-washing, checking that water and sanitation facilities in local communities are safe and disease-free, and ensuring that health messages about COVID-19 are being amplified in school settings.

Our primary objective is to ensure children and families can protect themselves and their wider community. In those countries where ChildFund is supporting government health services, our staff will continue to partner with the relevant authorities and their work to test and treat those affected.

COVID-19 is affecting families across the globe, and we urge our many Australian supporters to take all active steps to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. This really is a time for us to all think and act as global citizens.