COCKBURN council is axing its financial counselling service, while Fremantle’s hangs in the balance, following further cuts from the cash-strapped Barnett government.
The services have long waiting lists with as many as eight people a day turned away because of demand.
Cockburn confirmed to the Herald this week its two remaining counsellors will go from October 1, while Fremantle says it’s yet to decide whether to pick up the tab for its service.
Cockburn mayor Logan Howlett is calling on the state government to reverse its funding cut, which it told the council of on Friday.
”In the past 11 months alone the city’s financial counsellors have assisted 518 clients,” Mr Howlett says.
Maria Bakas from the South Lake Ottey Centre says the figure is even higher, as her staff book in about 1400 people a year.
She describes the cuts as “shameful” and says they’ll result in more crime, alcohol abuse and hospitalisation as people crack under financial stress.
She says she’s had people coming through the door who feed their children sausage rolls for dinner because they’re so poor.
The services help people learn how to budget, prepare nutritious, cheap meals and also lobby utilities over late bills.
Cockburn councillor Lee-Anne Smith, who used to run the Halo program for underprivileged youth, says she might ask her colleagues to fund the service out of council coffers.
She recalled a single mum who’d fallen behind on car repayments after taking time off work due to illness. She was just about to sign repossession papers when she’d said, “I might get some advice”.
Cockburn’s financial counsellors were able to negotiate a payment schedule that allowed her to keep her car.
“Losing the car when you’re a single mother would have had a big impact, on her and her family,” Cr Smith says.
Fremantle deputy mayor Josh Wilson says the cuts—in Freo’s case they amount to about $100,000—are hard to fathom when Western Australians are buckling under post-mining boom financial pressures.
“This is an issue of equity and fairness,” Cr Wilson says. “People who use this regional service are on a financial knife-edge in some cases and without assistance can really find themselves in trouble.”
The WA government has already removed Legal Aid from Fremantle and this latest cut will impact the city’s Community Legal Centre.
“In both cases the access to basic social justice is being taken away,” Cr Wilson says.
by STEVE GRANT