Jesuit Social Services’ recently released Victorian State Election platform, A state of opportunity, builds on 45 years of advocacy and action, to outline our vision for a just society across a range of interconnected social policy areas, from a fairer justice system, to support for people experiencing multiple and complex needs such as mental illness, trauma and bereavement, and preventing violence. In this first in a series of pre-Election blogs, we focus on the role of place-based approaches in addressing inequity and disadvantage.

For more than 20 years, Jesuit Social Services has mapped locational disadvantage in a series of reports now known as Dropping off the EdgeWe have consistently found, most recently in our Dropping off the Edge 2021 report, that in Victoria, disadvantage is concentrated in a small number of communities.

These Victorian communities experience a complex web of inequity and disadvantage that makes it challenging to improve life opportunities – factors such as contact with the justice system, higher rates of unemployment among parents and young people, higher rates of young people leaving school before year 10, and lower incomes.

We believe that place-based approaches – which centre community decision-making and respond to local needs and strengths – together with systemic change, can build a Victorian where all people are included and have access to the opportunities and resources they need to thrive.


Place-based approaches address disadvantage and build resilience

Jesuit Social Services’ Centre for Just Places is leading a research consortium examining best practice and evidence-based research on effective place-based approaches, to support and inform the Victorian Government’s whole-of-government place-based reform and policy agenda. The research has highlighted the success and potential of place-based approaches both in addressing ongoing inequity and disadvantage and building resilience to crises.

Jesuit Social Services calls on the incoming government to continue to resource place-based, community-led initiatives and system-wide responses that prioritise equitable outcomes in social and environmental infrastructure, affordable housing, and employment. This includes longer-term place-based investment that draws on strength-based approaches to ensure local communities design and implement policies, programs and services that are tailored to their unique needs.


Disadvantaged communities are disproportionately affected by climate change

We recognise that to address entrenched and persistent disadvantage in Victoria, the incoming government must adequately resource place-based climate adaptation and resilience. Jesuit Social Services was not surprised that the 2021 iteration of Dropping off the Edge research – the first ever to examine environmental factors – found that Australia’s most disadvantaged communities are often disproportionately affected by environmental risks, such as heat stress, air pollution and fewer green spaces. We know that people already experiencing marginalisation and disadvantage are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with fewer resources to cope and adapt.

Community service organisations are on the frontline of climate impacts in their communities. Given their relationships with and knowledge of local communities, they have a key role to play in informing how we understand and address the underlying drivers of vulnerability and supporting those impacted by extreme weather. At the same time, community service organisations are highly vulnerable themselves and not well-prepared torespond to climate change or extreme weather events, with many small and medium-sized organisations at risk of permanent closure or service disruption as a result of major damage to physical infrastructure and delays and failures in the delivery of critical services. This can have implications for rates of homelessness, deprivation, hunger and isolation, where a combination of these impacts may lead to further entrenched disadvantage and years of life lost.


Resilience-building workshops are a critical conversation starter

In recognising the urgent need to adapt, the Centre for Just Places has been delivering climate adaptation and resilience workshops across metropolitan Melbourne. The workshops aim to strengthen collaboration between community service organisations and local governments, to build resilience to extreme weather and protect the health and wellbeing of those most at risk.

The Centre’s workshops serve as a critical conversation starter, building common understandings of climate vulnerability and community needs in each local government area and catalysing future collaborations. In one local government area, for example, relationships developed through the workshops enabled deep engagement with at-risk community members and their lived experience of climate change.

Jesuit Social Services recommends that the Victorian Government commit to empowering communities and the community services sector to adapt to climate change, by continuing to resource local initiatives that build community resilience over the long term. We strongly support VCOSS’ call for a Community Sector Climate Change Adaptation Fund to resource such initiatives. We believe this should be supported by the development of a climate change adaptation action plan for the community sector based on the Health and Human Services Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan 2022–2026.

We also recommend that the incoming Victorian Government resource the establishment and coordination of place-based, cross-sector, resilience coalitions working in partnership with local governments and the community sector to build on existing knowledge and relationships and strengthen adaptation planning and policies.

Building place-based, cross-sector coalitions would enable a shared understanding of how social and climate justice issues intersect and help drive adaptation planning and policy development to build broader community resilience.

Jesuit Social Services’ recommendations:

  • Identify locations of complex disadvantage, through Dropping off the Edge research, and develop long-term, place-based and systemic approaches in these locations that centre community decision-making and address factors that lead to inequity and disadvantage.
  • Fund further research into entrenched and persistent disadvantage that builds on existing work, seeks to understand broader aspects of health and wellbeing, and supports social infrastructure
  • Establish a Community Sector Climate Adaptation Fund and corresponding Action Plan to support community service organisations to trial and implement climate change adaptation and mitigation activities.
  • Build broader community resilience to climate change by resourcing the establishment and coordination of place-based, cross-sector, resilience coalitions to work in partnerships with local governments and the community sector to strengthen adaptation planning and policies.