Jesuit Social Services has maintained its focus on advocacy in a changing environment due to COVID-19. As governments at all levels respond to the pandemic with measures to bolster support to vulnerable people or curtail the movements of the community for safety, it is essential that we understand the impacts of these changes and ensure the best are kept while those that limit freedoms and rights are wound back as soon as practical.

Jesuit Social Services has quickly moved to establish a range of structures to ensure the experience of our participants drives our priorities and keeps our actions grounded in the lived-experience of the most vulnerable in the community.

These structures include:

  • The formation of an internal ‘Communities of Justice’ group, led by CEO Julie Edwards, to understand the impacts of recent changes on our participant group and inform advocacy for a post-COVID-19 world.
  • The formation of a ‘Friends of Jesuit Social Services’ group to draw on external experts across a range of fields to drive big-picture advocacy on universal issues that impact on our communities.

The formation of an ‘Advocacy Action Group’ to:

  • provide a structured way for the policy, advocacy and communications team to support programs with any COVID-19 related issues
  • record how programs have positively adapted and to document lessons learned
  • ensure programs have a clear avenue to communicate COVID-19 related matters for rapid-response advocacy.

Parallel to these new structures, Jesuit Social Services continues to advocate for:

  • maintaining higher benefits for jobseekers; a criminal justice response that keeps non-violent people out of prison and improves outcomes for them and the community; access to support for refugees and people seeking asylum; equity for digital access; appropriate and affordable housing; and an effective and accessible mental health system.
  • participate in sector working groups, including Smart Justice for Young People, Australian Council of Social Services, Victorian Council of Social Services, Making Justice Work, Catholic Social Services Australia, Jesuit Conference of the Asia Pacific and others.

We have continued to make Policy submissions to important inquiries over the past few months including: the Inquiry into Homelessness; the Inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian Bushfire Season; the Royal Commission into National Disaster Arrangements; the Review into Victoria’s Skills & Training Sector; and a submission on the Australian Government’s response to COVID-19.

Jesuit Social Services has always had a strong focus on partnership and coordinated action and we continue to join with others in critical issues. Over the past few months we have:

  • endorsed the #NobodyLeftBehind letter campaign to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and key decision makers to ensure people seeking asylum, refugees and other vulnerable groups are included in COVID-19 responses. This letter was led by the Refugee Council of Australia.
  • endorsed a joint letter led by Council to Homeless Persons and Domestic Violence Victoria calling on the Government to fully deliver on its commitments to implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, including to deliver the social housing supply needed for women to have safe options to escape violence and to recover.
  • endorsed a joint letter to government from organisations working in the justice sector on the circumstances of women in prison during the COVID-19 emergency.

At Jesuit Social Services we like to say that we ‘do’ and we ‘influence’. At a time when there is a lot of focus on ‘doing’, it is critical that we understand the impacts of these actions and influence a future that draws on the best of them and moves swiftly to undo those that may be harmful in the long-run.