City of Ballarat suburbs have ranked high for disadvantage, in the latest report by Jesuit Social Services mapping adversity amongst communities in Australia.
The Dropping off the Edge (DOTE) 2021 report's measure of disadvantage involves assessment of 37 indicators across "social wellbeing, health, community safety, economic, education, environmental and intergenerational outcomes".
The report's University of Canberra researchers listed Ballarat's Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2) - a label which groups communities according to social and economic interaction - in the first quintile (top 20 per cent) of Victoria for disadvantage indicators including juvenile convictions, prison admissions, long-term unemployment, rent assistance dependence, and poor childhood numeracy and literacy levels.
Ballarat North and South areas were recorded to be the most vulnerable in the state in regard to lack of GPs, disability support pension recipients, public-housing, rent assistance recipients, and financial stress.
Wendouree and Miners Rest had the most indicators in the first quintile with 18 of the 37 disadvantage categories falling in the top 20 per cent of Victoria. The area ranks in the top 30 of the state's most disadvantaged locations.
Prevalent disadvantages for outer-Ballarat suburbs including Alfredton, Delacombe, Smythes Creek, and Wendouree were lack of GP access, long-term unemployment, rent assistance and financial stress.
Salvation Army Ballarat team leader John Clonan said the majority of people looking for help at his organisation were those experiencing financial difficulties due to "increase in expenses, together with some loss of income".
"That is one of the key factors," he said.
"The highest percentage presenting are those currently on JobSeeker.
"The next group of people presenting for assistance are people on disability support pensions, 28 per cent, and the next group are people on parenting payments, 23 per cent."
Mr Clonan said the reduction in the JobSeeker supplement from $150 a fortnight, during 2020 to March 2021, to $50 a fortnight had the most significant impact on the number of people returning to the Salvation Army for aid, and called for a JobSeeker increase back to COVID-19 supplement levels.
"When people were given that extra JobSeeker supplement, they were managing quite well," he said.
"It gave them a bit more dignity and respect. It was a humane approach to providing a basic level of income for everyone."
Mr Clonan said addressing disadvantage also required "an integrated services approach" with a focus on education and financial literacy.
Uniting Ballarat Senior Manager of Homelessness Adam Liversage said he wasn't "overly surprised" to see Ballarat ranked highly in the report, and stressed the need for more public housing funding.
"We see the disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our community present here everyday, whether it's homelessness, or assistance with alcohol and drugs, or mental health, or crisis housing," he said.
"We need government investment in social housing, and a commitment from community based organizations as well.
"But not just once, it needs to be continuous."
For areas like Wendouree, which appeared in the top 30 most disadvantaged areas in Victoria in both 2015 and 2021 DOTE reports, Mr Liversage said progress could be made with investment in new housing and landscaping.
"It really does need a real overhaul," he said.
"They've upgraded some parks and recreational areas, but they need to start focusing on the actual properties themselves and invest in community programs with gardening to enhance the look [of them].
"That gives the local community something to be proud of because they can take ownership of it as well."
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.