Today, close to 1 million people in Victoria, or 20 per cent of the population, are either living below or just above the poverty line. This should be unacceptable in a wealthy country like ours.

Yet, Victoria runs the risk of focusing too much on the crisis end of our social framework which is diverting resources from where it can be most effective.

For instance, by 2015, Victoria will be spending close to $1 billion just to maintain its massively expanded prison population – a figure which does not include the huge capital costs of building more prisons.

In Melbourne’s growing outer suburbs and throughout rural and regional Victoria there are critical infrastructure and service gaps need to be addressed if we are to avoid entrenching disadvantage in those communities.

Yet Victoria should be able to turn our growing population and demographic changes into a driver of innovation to ensure our economy is a powerhouse into the 21st Century.

VCOSS has developed a list of priority areas where smarter spending and more innovative thinking can make a real difference, right now.

These policies are based on the best available evidence and address trends and issues that VCOSS members are seeing on the ground, delivering frontline community services to the growing numbers of people who rely on the assistance of community organisations.

These initiatives are designed to deliver significant social benefits to the whole community while improving Victoria’s budget bottom line by diverting resources away from expensive crisis responses to social problems.

Good social policy is also good economic policy. Excluding some Victorians from participation in the economy not only risks more social problems that will cost us dearly in the future but also represents lost productive capacity which, as our population and economy changes, we cannot afford to ignore.

If we want to live in a community where people are able to celebrate milestones like Christmas and New Year free from the burden of vulnerability and disadvantage we will have to work at it. It is not enough just to provide charity and understanding. Instead we should be seeking to alleviate the social and economic problems that cause disadvantage. That would be the greatest gift of all.

Contacts for people experiencing hardship

Energy hardship

The VCOSS guide, Keeping the lights on, offers practical advice and contact information for people who are experiencing energy hardship or are worried they may be disconnected from their supply.

The Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWOV) should be contacted for any problems, issues or complaints about energy or water. Freecall: 1800 500 509; Interpreter:  131 450; Email: .

General hardship and household budget

Moneyhelp offers advice and assistance to people with debt or payment problems and is run by the Consumer Action Law Centre. They offer a free phone service on 1800 007 007.

The Financial and Consumer Rights Council is the peak body for financial counsellors who offer free, confidential and independent financial advice.

MoneySmart – Financial tips and safety checks website provided by ASIC.

Federation of Community Legal Centres – Help in finding a community legal centre in your area.

Gambling Help Online – Live counselling for gamblers and their families, along with resources and information for community workers.

Family violence referral

Domestic Violence Victoria is the peak body for women and children’s family violence services in Victoria.

The Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service of Victoria (WDVCS) is the state-wide not-for-profit service for women and children experiencing violence and abuse from a partner or ex-partner, another family member or someone close to them.

Emma King is the Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS).