Six Social Service Areas Ripe for Competition

By Andrew Heaton

(image via Haven Free Clinic)

Six key areas of social service provision in Australia have been identified as priority areas for reform to promote greater competition.

Unveiling its recommendations for priority areas of human service provision which could offer the most potential whereby individual wellbeing and community welfare could be enhanced through greater levels of competition, the Productivity Commission says reform could offer the greatest benefits in terms of social housing, public hospitals, end-of-life care services, public dental services, services in remote and indigenous communities and government commissioned family services.

In its report, the Commission acknowledges that competition between multiple services and providers is not always desirable and that it is not always the case that users of human services are indeed well-placed to make informed choices about what best suits their needs.

Nevertheless, it said that if accompanied by strong government stewardship, greater levels of competition and contestability have the potential to empower users to decide which services best meet their needs and to give service providers an incentive to become more innovative and responsive to the needs of users.

“With some exceptions, the user of the service is best-placed to make choices about the services that match their needs and preferences,” the Commission said.

“Putting this power into users’ hands lets individuals exercise greater control over their own lives. The increased agency this creates has merit.”

The report comes as part of a two-part inquiry during which the Commission has been tasked with looking at how greater contestability and competition could improve human service provision.

Whilst the first stage looked at which types of services are best suited to more competition, a second phase of the inquiry will make specific recommendations for reform to ensure that all Australians have access to timely and affordable services which best meet their needs.

But the report has been slammed by social service lobby groups, who say it looks at the wrong questions and takes place against a backdrop to deep funding cuts.

Australian Council of Social Services Chief Executive Officer Cassandra Goldie said that any efforts to improve competition in social service delivery should incorporate a broader analysis of barriers to improving access and service quality.

“We have said from the beginning of this process that the Government’s terms of reference pose the wrong questions, in the wrong order,” Goldie said.

“The Productivity Commission has been asked to consider which sectors should be priorities for competition reform and how should this be done. The right first question should instead be, how can we improve access to quality, affordable services which improve people’s lives?”

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